PBL: giving the students a voice and choice (Part 1)

OK, so I’ve been interested in the ‘student voice and choice’ thing since connecting with fellow DEC teacher Neil Farra. He has been working hard to transform his students’ perceptions of school and learning with his Project REAL. He’s having great success and I’m sure it’s a project you will hear more about in the future.

A little while back I had a bit of a teacher existential crisis after chatting with Neil about his ideas about education – you can read my lamenting here. Whilst hindsight tells me I was wrong to get so stressed about my PBL, I have been looking forward to the time when my Year 10 class are ready to begin taking a more active role in designing our projects.

I’m taking it slow because I don’t want to overwhelm my students and force them to regress back to the safety net of spoon-feeding and passive learning.

First of all, I gave my students a lesson in crafting a driving question. Using my whole class instruction method I reminded them of the purpose of a DQ and the driving questions they had already tackled this year. I explained the focus of our current project (looking at representations of the individual and authority relationship in texts), showed them the outcomes for the project allocated by our faculty and told them about the final product (a short film text) and presentation. I then showed them how the Tubric can be used to assist in writing a question and gave them a tubric sheet and a piece of A3 paper on which to draft their own DQ. You can see a video explaining the Tubric and DQs below:

I gave the students ten minutes to write a DQ in self-selected teams. During this time I went around to each group and gave assistance and feedback where necessary. After 10 minutes each team hopped up in front of the class and presented their DQ. Whilst they presented I typed each DQ into an edmodo poll. Once all presentations were over, students went and voted for their favourite DQ. Here is a screen shot of the poll in process so you can see the students’ DQs. I was really pleased with their questions!

After a bit of negotiation we selected this as our DQ:

How can we make a film for an online community to change people’s view on individuals and authority?

The second element that I wanted to introduce student autonomy in was team arrangements. I had students nominate peers they believed would be good team leaders. I asked them to post their nominations as a direct post to me on edmodo. I then selected five of these nominations to be team leaders and posted their names to the class’s edmodo group wall. Students then were to select a team leader they wished to work with and post this selection as a direct post to me on edmodo. This worked OK but we had quite a few students absent from class for this activity. (NOTE: Today when the students returned I got them to put their name up on the whiteboard under the team leader names. It worked pretty well but I think it would have been better to continue with the private edmodo method to avoid any awkward situations where students felt obliged to select their close friends over more suitable team leaders. Looks like there is still some unlearning to go for Year 10!)

Alright … so that was my introduction to student-voice in PBL. It was pretty good, I thought.

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5 thoughts on “PBL: giving the students a voice and choice (Part 1)

  1. You are a machine, where do you get your energy from? I am very interested how this works as we are looking at ways to ‘shake up’ the Australian History course after this year. I sometimes lament the fact that our primary concern is improving literacy which detracts from ‘real’ PBL. 80% of Project REAL students achieved in the bottom 3 NAPLAN bands, thus we always seem to have higher levels of direct instruction than would normally be the case. It is great to see someone so intent on challenging the paradigm and your efforts are inspiring. reading your blog always gives me an energy boost (which I am in serious need of lately).

    • haha – not sleeping really keeps a girl pumped 😉 Nah – just desperate to document what I’m doing so next year I can do it all again!

      Yeah with PBL you need to just try to lose focus on grades entirely – in fact the evidence suggests that grading actually negatively impacts on a student’s learning. Feedback without a grade has highest impact on learning!

      Thanks for the kind words … always so nice to me!

  2. This process you’re doing is a PBL in itself – either a meta-PBL or a PBL about a PBL. Awesome stuff. A really good thing you do is teaching the processes and skills involved – what I refer to as process-based approach to planning.

    I probably wouldn’t allow the students to select their own teams – for lots of reasons, combination of academic, pastoral and even practical. Besides, in real life, we often don’t get a choice of who we work with. What’s unclear above is whether you’ve defined the roles – and skills – required which drive how many should be in a team and more importantly, what each team member is to be held accountable for. Here’s my post on PBL and collaboration with more details on this. Sometimes I think that there is more flexibility in structures – you know which rules to break then. I mean, defining the process or assigning roles do not meant removing student choice and voice; these can be expressed in the actual development of the project.

    By the way, this isn’t a criticism. Far from it. It’s me trying to understand how you’re doing it and why. I learn best getting other people’s perspectives. You are challenging my thinking – that’s a very good thing…for me anyway.

    Where to next?

    • Thanks Malyn 🙂

      Well I’ve actually controlled the selection of teams since the beginning of the year – this is about giving them a bit of choice and power. They have been given the project outline which specifies all of the tasks requires etc (will post on that tomorrow) and thus know that the major product (a film) requires different strengths/weaknesses etc. The next process lesson will be on allocating roles for the making of the film … something I’m looking forward to teaching them. Thanks – read your posts and am doing a combination of process and product PBL 🙂

  3. Well done, Bianca. Having been to see Neil’s Project REAL in action (I intend to blog about it soon, just waiting to get my DER laptop back with all my OneNote jottings on it) it is a process that is definitely worthwhile and one I intend to pursue with my own classes. Student voice is vital to new teaching, or rather new learning. I have a great quote I’m going to post on my blog soon that contrasts management vs engagement. And what you are doing here (involving learners in the learning process – they are stakeholders afterall) is just what is needed in the next decade or so. Keep it up!

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