My research: PBL, assessment and subject English

OK. So on Monday I got a really serious email from my MEd supervisor (Dr Jon Callow, Sydney University … cool, huh?) … it was a timetable for my Masters and it was hectic. There is so much for me to do between now and next August when I graduate that it makes my head spin and my toes tingle. Not in a good way.

The first thing that is due is my research proposal … and I have to present that to a panel! Eek! I’ve already written a draft thesis proposal as part of a unit of study that I did last year (you can laugh at it here). Looking back over it now, I cringe – I have learnt so much since then, most importantly the value of ‘small’ ideas. It’s nice to dream big, but research is expensive (time and money) and I need to be realistic about what I can achieve. Over the last 8 months I have pared back the focus of my research to just assessment, project-learning and the English classroom. It is still too loose to be able to write, so I’m at that ‘read and immerse’ stage where I just have to drown myself in other people’s words and ideas and experiences. It’s so weird because – to be completely honest – I don’t particularly enjoy reading other people’s ideas and experiences. Oh, I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word – I enjoy it when I do it, I just rarely do it and I dunno why. Arrogance most likely. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at (in a slow, stuttering Hugh Grant is proposing to a daft blonde kind of way) is that I need help.

<ignore this paragraph it is garbage>

I am leaning heavily towards a case study consisting of one English class – focusing on the attitudes (but maybe not attitudes??) of the students and the teacher towards (the effectiveness of??) different forms of assessment. I’d do something like help a teacher plan and run a PBL-style project whereby three different forms of assessment are included (assessment of, for and as) in the three week project. Urgh. Writing it down makes it sound so stupid. Basically there seems to be ZERO research into PBL (my type of PBL, like the BIE model basically) in Australia and absolutely ZERO into PBL in the English classroom. So that means there is a ‘gap’ – a good thing for researchers. My job is to fill up the gap, haha. The final layer is assessment … well really feedback is truly what I’m interested in … or is it the ‘assessment cycle’ in the English classroom?

SORRY! Here is what I want to say about assessment … it’s from my draft thesis proposal:

A challenge faced by secondary English teachers in Australia is the nature of assessment. Often the primary assessment in English is summative despite evidence that formative or assessment for learning practices have ‘more impact on learning than any other general factor’ (Petty, 2006). The Rationale of the NSW English Stage 4/5 Syllabus (2003, p. 7) and Australian Curriculum: English (2011, p. 6) both advocate assessment for learning practices including peer and self-assessment.  In their seminal paper, Black and William (1998) conclude that the introduction of effective assessment for learning  “will require significant changes in classroom practice” (p. 141) because “instruction and formative assessment are indivisible” (p. 143). Importantly Black and William propose that “what is needed is a classroom culture of questioning and deep thinking, in which pupils learn from shared discussions with teachers and peers” (p. 146). These features are key elements of project-based pedagogies which have been shown to “have documented positive changes for teachers and students in motivation, attitude toward learning, and skills, including work habits, critical thinking skills and problem-solving” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, p. 4, 2008) Barron’s (1998) study of project and problem-based learning using a longitudinal case study of 5th graders found that, given timely feedback as part of their PBL experience, students took “advantage of the opportunity to revise” (p. 304). Moreover, Barron concluded that an “emphasis on formative assessment and revision” (p. 305) is central to PBL.

And this is what I want to say about Project Based Learning … from same place as above paragraph.

Project-based learning is a pedagogy that engages students in relevant, real-world problems that require them to attain and strengthen skills essential for success in the 21st century – collaboration, communication, creativity, digital citizenship – as well as understanding positive ‘habits of mind’ (Costa, 2007). Founded in Constructivist theory, Project Based Learning “involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event or presentation to an audience” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 2).   Research into project-based learning (PBL) “has found that students who engage in this approach benefit from gains in factual learning that are equivalent or superior to those of students who engage in traditional forms of instruction” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 2).

What do I want from YOU?! Well … I’m doing this research thing new-skool. Yeah, I can read through the reference list of a hundred journal articles and I can trawl through the edu data bases of Sydney University … but I could also use my wonderful edu network and ask YOU what articles/research you have read relating to ANY aspects of my focus topic (PBL, assessment/feedback and the English classroom in NSW, Australia) that might help me better immerse myself in this topic and find some truly awesome gaps to fill, haha. If you just know the name of an academic or writer or teacher or article or blog or journal that you think I should track down or read … pretty please let me know by posting a comment below. I reckon edu research should be collaborative and should be shared immediately. I’ll be posting here everything I think, find and write … straight away, no waiting for a journal to tell me I’m good enough. Unless of course I get told off for doing so, haha – then I’ll tell you about me being told off 😉

Thanks a million in advance!


5 thoughts on “My research: PBL, assessment and subject English

  1. You might check out a bit dated (2000, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy) but still valuable paper called “Reinventing Adolescent Literacy for New Times,” by Moje, Young, Readence, & Moore. They address PBL a bit, but really dig into defining the challenges/opportunities of multiple literacies and students’ desire to explore/create media that don’t fit traditional reading lists. I think they were ahead of their time!
    In the U.S., of course, we’re all focused on how assessment will change with advent of Common Core State Standards. NCTE has taken this on with a series of books. The edition for secondary teachers is by Sarah Brown Wessling. Worth a look, although it’s more about practice than research.
    Finally, you might want to touch base with Antero Garcia. He blogs at (and gets good play in my new book on innovation!). He involved his hs English students in doing action research–an intriguing idea. Now he’s in academia, at Colorado State Univ. He might be a good bet for finding more current research on hs literacy/PBL.

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