I’ve probably blogged about this before, but I’m going to do it again because over the last two weeks I’ve had experiences that remind me of the centrality of an authentic public audience for PBL. Rigorous, effective and meaningful PBL involves a ‘public audience’ according to BIE. It is one of their 8 essentials of PBL:
Students present their work to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher – in person or online. This “ups the stakes,” increasing students’ motivation to do high-quality work, and adds to the authenticity of the project.
Obviously for a very busy high school teacher who is responsible for 6 classes all from different age groups can make finding a public audience a real challenge – it can even seem like a chore! I’ve noticed that often this is the one element of PBL that is neglected simply because it seems too hard or too ‘high risk’ – students end up just presenting to their class or posting products to the web. My colleagues often say that I am ‘brave’ when I plan for my students to share their learning with an audience outside of the school. I think what they really mean is ‘crazy’. It can seem completely insane, especially when you are well aware that your students may not have created/designed a product that is impressive in and of itself. Often the product itself does not reflect the process of learning taken to get to that end result. Sometimes teachers are embarrassed that a public audience will judge the students harshly on what they see, or even the students themselves are nervous or embarrassed about sharing their product that they feel doesn’t meet their idealised vision of what they planned. BUT this is exactly why we need to have our students share with a public audience. They need to experience that reflection on learning, that self-evaluation of their product and why it does or doesn’t meet their expectations. They need to be given the opportunity to explain the learning process involved in designing their product – whatever it may be. They need to learn to publicly value that learning is a process. We need them to step up and take ownership of their ideas, their experiences, their effort and their potential failures. It is through this process of public reflection that students develop the skills needed to be life-long learners.
However, there is something important to remember when planning to share learning with a public audience. Just like in the classroom, a friendly, safe and welcoming culture is important when students present their ideas and work to an audience. We do not want our students working in a hostile and unfriendly learning environment and as such we do not want them presenting in an environment that is threatening or intimidating. It is essential that you create a fun and friendly mood for the presentation of learning. Here’s five things you and your students can do to create a great mood for public presentations:
1. Have students create the invitations. Make sure that students are directly involved in inviting guests. You can even have students choose who the public audience will be. Students might want to design invitations to send to guests, or they might just want to help you write the email to be sent out.
2. Have a practice presentation in the space. If possible, get your students to have a trial run-through of their presentation. Just like adults, young people get nervous in front of an audience and feel better if they have rehearsed. Encourage the use of palm-cards if students are particularly nervous.
3. Share your favourite bit. Ask students to choose their very favourite part of their product (such as their favourite stanza from a poem, or paragraph from a story) and get them to share that with the audience. They might even like to share their favourite learning experience such as reading outdoors in the sunshine or editing their video using iMovie.
4. Create a video. If a student is particularly nervous about presenting in front of an audience, ease their fears by allowing them to record a voice-over on a slideshow or create a short video sharing their learning with the audience. This is especially helpful for those students who pretend to be ‘unreliable’ and don’t show up at the presentation, when really they are suffering from anxiety that they don’t wish to share with others.
5. Decorate the venue and feed your guests! Involve your students in creating a part atmosphere for the presentations. Learning shouldn’t be boring and serious – it should be fun and engaging! Have students bring in a plate of food, make sure hot and cold drinks are available and even have some balloons or colourful displays around. Make sure that when you introduce yourself and your students that you are jovial and smiling. It really makes a difference!
Hopefully these tips will help you and your students feel more confident and relaxed when sharing their projects with a public audience! My next blog post will outline how I had a super successful final presentation with my Year 9 class, even though I expected it to be awful!