Over the last month or so, I’ve felt increasingly like I’m on the defensive when it comes to project-based learning. I guess the fact that it is starting to become more well-known and teachers outside of the online clique are starting to get interested is turning some people off. No one wants to get caught out supporting a ‘hip’ edu fad, right?
But I’m stoked that it’s coming to the attention of more teachers, and even better that it’s coming to the attention of teachers not in the ‘clique’ of online edtech peeps. That means it’s actually going to move from being something people talk about to each other in online spaces, to something that real, working teachers actually do in their classrooms. I am just one parent who has already seen the change that PBL can make to her child’s learning and attitude towards school. Why would anyone want to bag out a pedagogy that has this effect?
So what are some of these criticisms I’m hearing? The two main ones seem to be about the level of control the teacher has over the direction of the project and the depth of inquiry that is facilitated. I guess they are legitimate concerns, but as I have said in a recent post, and as I will continue to say in many more posts I am sure, PBL is just one approach amongst many that is encouraging teachers to look at their role a little bit differently. If doing a ‘project’ means that a student is freed up from a few dozen worksheets and a few hours staring into space whilst the teacher talks, well it can’t be all bad, can it?
Having been in the classroom now for nearly eight years (and actually using a project-learning approach to teach English for nearly three of those years) I think I have a place in saying that PBL really can transform how a teacher sees her role in the classroom. It can transform how she approaches learning, how she views her students and how she designs learning experiences. Yeah, they may not meet the ‘ideals’ set by so called ‘experts’ who speak from outside of the classroom (i.e. they are not in front of 20-30 teenagers for 50 minutes, up to 6 times a day) but so what? Sometimes the standards and the ideals need to come from within the four walls of learning – the classroom – and not from people outside.
So my defence of PBL is not eloquent, nor is it backed up with research (not yet anyway, but neither are the ‘expert’ arguments from what I’ve seen) but it is honest and supported with almost three years of classroom experience. If it wasn’t for PBL, I wouldn’t be a teacher today. I would have quit in a rage of paper worksheets and pre-planned lessons. Yes, there are some ways to go when it comes to every project that is implemented into every classroom … but then that’s progress and that’s learning, right?
I truly believe that project-learning has helped my students to develop thinking habits and organisational skills they wouldn’t have had the chance to in a ‘normal’ classroom. I think it’s brought them into contact with amazing people from outside of their traditional learning environment. It certainly has pushed them to create amazing new texts and work with peers who they would normally ignore or avoid.
I can’t fault the ‘eight essential elements of PBL’ that are outlined by the Buck Institute for Education or the whole range of amazing resources shared by them on their website (super useful and important for teachers starting out, but definitely requiring modifying to meet the needs of your students)!
No, PBL isn’t the only model of learning that encourages and supports students to learn in new ways, but it is one that is VERY accessible to the real classroom teacher. It is a model that makes teaching enjoyable … it’s one that I’ve had heaps of success with and I’ve tried heaps of different approached with my classes over the years. I just don’t understand why people would go around smashing PBL down because it doesn’t meet their criteria of excellence, or even suggesting that one ‘model’ or PBL is superior to another. I hope in the next ten years there is more research into PBL – especially in Australia – I guess then we can all start taking a superior tone and denigrating PBL as an inferior model of learning. Peace.