Project Based Learning … struggling …

Well I’m feeling as though I am officially ‘back’ at school for Term 2. Last week just wasn’t making me feel down about myself or my ability to teach well.

Today on the other hand …

The day started at a brisk 7.30am with a meet and greet with my new prac student (who is very lovely by the way and I hope to rope her into a guest blog post at some point) and then my double Year 11 class. The class was great – kids were funny, engaged and completed the tasks set for them. Showing Lauren (the prac student) around the school was a breeze as well – in fact, quite fun seeing a new teacher’s reaction to a playground full of students and a maze constructed from concrete and bricks.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the last period of the day that I really started to hit panic mode. My class are in the middle of doing (what I think) is an interesting, engaging and fun project – the students have to work in small groups to create a book trailer. These guys needed to persuade me to want to rush out and buy the book. They needed to draw on all they know about persuasive devices (you can guess what year group they are now, right?). I have included all of the elements that I ‘know’ are elements of a great task: the students could select the book they based the trailer on (they had just finished reading it for literature circles) as well as the other students they worked with, they could select the programs they used to make the trailer also. Tonnes of student-choice and flexibility. That’s what great tasks have, right? Each lesson I have given them a goal setting sheet to complete at the beginning of the lesson as well as a reflection sheet to complete at the end. (I hate that these are ‘sheets’ and not just jotting down goals etc on edmodo – but I accidentally copied too many from a non-netbook class and didn’t want to waste the paper. I hardly think that paper vs. electronic recording of goals/reflection is the root of my problems with the class, but I’m happy to be proven wrong! I would LOVE an online tool to help with the goal-setting/reflection I use in this PBL-style of teaching … but that’s for another post!)

So why have I now spent three lessons with students poorly planning, chatting off task and getting minimal work completed? I am frustrated by this group as being an extension class I would imagine the task would be engaging and something they could do well. I know it’s the group work element and I’m struggling to work out how to improve it. I was so excited about this task, thinking how it will help them improve their understanding of persuasion, audience and purpose as well as shaping meaning within a text. All I seem to have done for three lessons is cajole them along through humour and tactile, external rewards (of the sugary, sweet variety) to get them to make a small dent in the task.

I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I need to start smaller. Perhaps I have not given a strong enough scaffold for the task … I did show exemplars … I gave a rough marking criteria (perhaps this is my flaw, needs to be tighter/clearer/more explicit?) … the audience is even ‘real’ – as the book trailers will be uploaded to youtube with the one getting the most views the winner. The prize is respect. If I was 14 I’d find that cool. But, I’m not. I’m 31 and a complete geek. Hmmm …

Having my mini ‘I am doing it all wrong’ melt down in front of my new prac student isn’t very professional. But it was real. Do I get brownie points for that?

Can you point out what I’m doing wrong? I kinda feel like I better go back to chalk and talk with these guys … maybe they need to be thrown into the cave for a little while. But really, it’s not about me – it’s about them. Maybe they just don’t learn this way? Maybe constructing knowledge with their close peers isn’t their ‘style’? Help!


15 thoughts on “Project Based Learning … struggling …

  1. If the task isn’t engaging them, why don’t you ask them why it isn’t? Show them that you value their advice and might be willing to adapt the task based on their feedback. What would make it more interesting for them? Start with where they are at.Good luck. Sounds like you put enormous effort into your planning. My query from the other end of the globe with minimal knowledge of your classroom is, if all of your effort is not engaging them, then do you need to hear more from them about what does?

    • That is the most perfect answer I could have asked for Cameron. Geez … where is my head? (OK, I know where it is, don’t answer that as it would be rude!) Self-involved … it’s all about me … what about the kids? Time for a chat with the learners. Thanks πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Paul πŸ™‚ I am a member and I do use these reflection tools. I haven’t seen that post – I’ll check it out and let you know (via a blog post) how I go. Poor kids, they’re probably just wanting to be taught how to master NAPLAN. I am an evil teacher.

  2. Hi Bianca. Your comment “It’s the group work element and I’m struggling to work out how to improve it” struck a chord with me. I’m a firm believer that junior students need guidance in working collaboratively. Working as a group is something that needs to be taught to kids, just the same as reflection and strategies to do this. In the 1990s, I worked in a NZ school that had a High Motivation Class. Students had to apply to be accepted. One of the areas of reflection was self and peer evaluation of the individual students role in group inquiry tasks. While I am not sure exactly how this fits with your PBL, I gather that you have worked in some way on this aspect. As you know, I have been working with driving questions for conceptual learning but I am far from using PBL. If you are interested I have been working on adapting collaborative role cards to include elements of ICT and 21st C skills. I am happy to share with you if you would like. They are not perfected yet but they are a start. I’m just trying to figure out attribution for the fact that I have adapted an “old idea” that there are many variations of on the net. Let me know if you think they might be useful and I’ll happily send them for you to adapt as you wish.They don;t of course have to be hard copy, they could live happily in an Edmodo library or blog. Cheers for a great end to your week.

    • I love the idea of a high motivation class! I think that if motivation/effort/willingness to be innovative, challenged, creative were actually criteria for getting into an extension class than kids could be ‘accountable’ for their apathy. Thanks for offering your cards. At the moment I have a thousand things running around my head, I know if I say yes they’ll get pushed under a mind rug somewhere. But, in saying that, I would love to see them added to your blog with a reflection on how you’re using them – maybe when you feel you’ve ‘perfected’ them? πŸ™‚

  3. P.S I’m not saying I agree with the whole theory of a High Motivation class either-that was the 1990s and this is now ! That was a specific schools answer to enrichment. Engagement for all through QT πŸ™‚ thought I’d better clarify that !

  4. I agree with Carlaeeb, designated roles are important. Also perhaps being in groups with their mates has added a group dynamic/ friendship problem? It is harder to critique your mates, or suggest that they aren’t pulling their weight.

    And Cameron is spot on about a class ‘conversation’ or even a survey, they might feel more comfortable anonymously filling out a survey/ giving some feedback.

    I’m interested to hear how you get on! I was thinking about doing the same sort of task with my year 8 class later in the year.

  5. My involvement in a HMC was definately a wonderful experience that I enjoyed immensely and learnt a lot from. As for “perfecting” the role cards, that choice of word is perhaps poor on my behalf because as we all know, ideas evolve and PLN input helps them to do so. Yes Bianca-I should put them on my Blog, the Posterous I have started, posted to and not hit the share button for 😦 Thanks for the “poke” πŸ™‚

  6. Pingback: Teaching in the round … « Bianca's Blog

  7. Bianca…
    In any project there are ups and downs – I think this is part of the process…
    I too have those days when I wonder if it is me teaching badly (Or is it the students lack of engagement!?)
    From the perspective of a practical class where you seek an outcome collaboratively, a few things that I have found are key….
    I have really been considering how workplace skills sit within the classroom, so, if they are creating a persuasive movie trailer, in industry, a few things they would need are: a timeline to work to, perhaps set goals for each lesson? Something tangible that they decide they have to submit at the end of each week?
    Another aspect of collaborative work and seeking an outcome like a movie trailer, is having each person have a role in the group – no more flubbering around! Time for them to step up to what each of their responsibilities are!!

    One thing I did when a collaborative task was floundering, was set my room up like a conference – on the door was a list if the ‘delegates’ and the table they had to sit at. In the classroom, there were grouped tables. Each table had the conference mints and lollies, as well as a folder of ‘conference notes’. I then conducted the lesson with ‘guest speakers’ and group work at their table.

    What if you set up a ‘board meeting’ where each group had to quickly present their latest ideas – unrefined and unprepared. Get them really to think about where their work is headed….?????

    Anyway – you are amazing… and I am sure it is just a road hump!
    But do let us know how it goes! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Jess!! These are GREAT suggestions – LOVE the idea of a mini-class conference and could easily set up a board meeting … hmmm. I might have to see where those can fit in to future projects. Yes, assigning ‘roles’ does seem to be key to group work success … I suppose I have been too flexible in my approach. Although I did find that the looming deadline got them focused today! Also asking them to post their lesson goals to our edmodo wall and then add a reply at the end reflecting on whether they accomplished each goal was MUCH more successful than having them write it on a sheet. Something to think about using in a more structured way in the future!
      Cheers Jess … you’re awesome too πŸ™‚

  8. There are some good alternative role cards on the myread website, if they help:

    Don’t forget that if they are an extension class other factors may he coming into play. I always find when teaching gifted or talented kids that they are quick to use their intelligence to get away with doing less πŸ˜‰

    But yeah, I am also found this semester that teaching pbl and group work at the same time was tough. Things going wrong with group learning had knock on effects for the pbl task…but, on reflection, not vice versa…

    I wouldn’t let their lack of buzz get you down. Just think how much worse it would be if you were a trad teacher. The kids don’t always have to understand the relevance of a task immediately, and besides it is essential formative learning if what you do here strengthens their capacity to do more next term…and the term after…

    Keep hold of the long view!

    • Thanks Kelli πŸ™‚ Yeah, I think with PBL you just have to be really committed and have faith in it as a long-term thing – bit like teaching with technology! I mean, it’s not like either PBL or ICT is immediately going to make each lesson a ‘wow’ lesson where the kids are 100% engaged and excited about learning. They have to un-learn years of teacher-centred learning in order to learn the skills of collaborative learning.
      Just gotta be really organised and that’s something I SERIOUSLY struggle with!

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

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