What does punk learning look like in my English classroom?

Well, I’ve been doing PBL with my students for quite some time now. I’m feeling sorta confident with my approach, although I continue to reinvent every project which is tiring and can be frustrating. I think it’s necessary too – different humans in my class should necessitate different learning methods, right?
Anyway, one thing that’s been bugging me about my way of doing PBL is that I’ve developed a formula – it’s a winning formula, I’ll admit arrogantly – and I get so very frustrated and annoyed by the rigidity of a formula. Even if it works. But am I overstating the effectiveness of my PBL? Yeah, probably. Why? Because why would I be venturing off into the dark depths of punk learning if it was entirely a success?
This is something I have been contemplating a lot. If I’m entirely honest, it’s simply because I’m bored. It’s all about me … not my students. But that can’t be a bad thing, right? After all, that’s why I tried PBL in the first place. Last night Lee tweeted this:

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It really got me thinking about my own biases and how these influence the learning that happens in my classroom every day. Maybe my desire to change how I teach is my priority? My desire to seem cutting edge to my PLN is the reason I try new things with my students?
Whilst my desire to change what happens in my classroom might be motivated by selfishness, it’s also motivated by a desire to push my students beyond their comfort zone. To really mess with their expectations of the learning experience. I had a great Twitter chat about PBL and Punk Learning with the very cool Ginger Lewman the other day … it was the night before I started a new topic with Year 11 and I was questioning whether to do my traditional PBL approach or not. Here’s a couple of our tweets:

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Ginger is right – Punk Learning is kinda like ‘Advanced’ or ‘Free’ PBL because it moves beyond the strict structure of PBL (in the sense that teachers control the content and mostly how it will be covered) and gives full control to the students. Super scary stuff. This isn’t new to me, I’ve done it a few times before – the most memorable being with a very disengaged Year 8 class last year. It takes either madness or confidence or both to give this a go. I think the experience of PBL is essential – my students know how PBL works and can take this approach to learning and work with it to create their own projects. Hmmm … to be honest they’re kinda still working within the structure of PBL (which I can’t fault really) but are entirely responsible for the project design. Am I confusing you yet?!
Anyway … this is what’s been happening in my class:
1. I introduced the topic in a brief way. Year 9 watched Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing and read The Arrival. I read Year 11 a plot summary of King Lear and a brief overview of ‘values’. I did my best to remain objective – not trying to influence them with teacher-talk about either issue. I think for English teachers this first bit of Punk Learning is hard because students may have little or no prior knowledge of the focus text or composer and therefore they lack curiosity and genuine questions. For example, you can’t just say, ‘We’re studying Shaun Tan. What questions would you like to know the answers to about this guy?’
2. I went through the QUESTION FORMULATION TECHNIQUE where students generate a whole bunch of questions, categorise them as ‘open’ or ‘closed’ and then develop one open question into their personal or team project question. Stealing from Tait Coles again, I had student write these questions on the windows of my classroom & on coloured paper posted to the classroom wall. Year 9 also used the BIE tubric to help develop their driving questions. You can see all questions in the images at the end of this post.
3. With Year 9, I gave them a project proforma to fill in. This is just a blank version of the project outline I give to students. They also had to select ISTE nets and HABITS OF MIND that they will need to master to be successful with their project. You can see their projects in the photos at the bottom of this post.
Year 11 decided that the first thing they needed to learn was Shakespeare’s context. We brainstormed some ways they could discover this and they can choose from them based on their own learning style. They will demonstrate their learning also in a mode of their own choosing. You can see what needs to be covered in the images below.

I’m still all out of my head about my students’ learning and freaking that I’m
not doing what’s best for them. I think I’ll always be like that. I guess my main concern is engagement in the process of learning – having students constantly thinking about the learning process. I’m also conscious of being very tired and busy and pleased that Lee suggested I hand over the reins to the kids do they can direct their own learning. Hope it works!

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5 thoughts on “What does punk learning look like in my English classroom?

  1. Wow! I’m still trying to get my head around PBL and now I wanna know more about punk learning! Who could get bored with teaching?! Thanks for the inspiration, you rock!

  2. Pingback: Project Based Learning and the Australian Curriculum ‘General Capabilities’ (Part 2) |

  3. Pingback: Year 9 became Shaun Tan experts and surprised their teacher! |

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