Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PBL Lessons - How Do You Approach Them?

I was asked this week to put down my steps for approaching a project based lesson with students. I'm listing here what I figured out. I am wondering, what advice would you have for me on my list? What am I not considering with this approach?

1. I start with the end in mind. I ask myself, "What are the 'givens' that the students need to get out of the activity? What are the topics in the content that need to be addressed with my students? What skills do they need to possess?"

2. I identify specific objectives that the students need to meet as a result of the lesson. This helps me as I continue to design the instruction. (Sometimes I do this part in a brainstorming session with the students.)

3. I find out where my students are with the content, skills and objectives. This can be done several ways. Oftentimes, I will use a combination of a KWL chart and some observation checklists. I can only design instruction that meets the students needs if I truly know my students.

4. I begin with a focus activity. I need to find a way to "hook" my students on the topic. What's interesting is that the younger the students are, the easier this is to do. It is not until JH and HS that some students become synical and hard to "hook in" at times.

This is the step at which my process changes depending on whether or not I am working on a project based lesson or a problem based lesson. The rest of what I put here reflects a project based lesson.

5. I introduce the project based lesson and assessment instrument (rubric) to the students. I typically try to have a scenario I am presenting to them that reflects a real life situation in some way. Sometimes the kids choose the medium for the end project and sometimes we are all using the same medium. It just all depends on what my goals are for the lesson/unit. If the kids are all using the same medium for the end project, then I build in choices in other parts of the lesson. I believe it is important to address differentiation through content, process or product so I try to build in choices in one of those three areas. Also, I use group work and roles a lot in my project based lessons. Roles help to define specific contributions each student must make. Sometimes I have the students plan how to divide the work defining the roles for themselves.

If possible, I sometimes have students view exemplars of the type of project they will be doing. I believe this gives them a basis for understanding more about quality work.

6. I have students make a list of what they need to know to be successful with their end project. This, then, makes up their focus in research and serves as my talking points with the students as I confer with each group.

7. Students work with me facilitating and conferring with each group.

8. Groups present to the rest of the class their plans for completing the lesson. This is where I have students give each other feedback on what they are doing.

9. More student work and facilitating/conferring.

10. Completed projects are shared in some way - sometimes using tools like blogs and voicethreads, sometimes just shared with the class. This is where we celebrate!

11. Final reflection - I have students do a self-assessment on how they met the goals for the unit, what they learned through the process, and what they will do differently next time. (This step is often skipped but I believe it to be an important one.)


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is There an Echo in Here?

Will Richardson has recently alerted me to the fact that yet another credible education organization has made an official statement regarding the shifts that are occurring in our society. The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) executive committee issued a statement that addresses the expansive nature of literacy today, including many abilities, competencies and literacies. I love the fact that the literacies are described as “multiple, dynamic and malleable.” Replacing those adjectives with others, we could also say they are many in number and varied, interactive and “live” rather than stagnant, and changeable or adaptable.

Also recently, I was privileged to sit in on a session by Dr. Tim Elmore where he was addressing the characteristics of the Millennial Generation that we now teach in JH and High School. It was interesting to me how much of what he was saying echoed the ideas I’ve been reading about in the technology blogs that I follow. Dr. Elmore says that kids today are an “EPIC generation: Experiential, Participatory, Image Driven, and Connected.” Another nugget I received from his talk was, “Students support what they help create.” Dr. Elmore is a former Youth Minister and consults with schools across the country on Growing Leaders. His books, Habitudes: Images that Form Leadership, are tools we are using in our homerooms with our students to help them understand character better.

It’s amazing, not surprising, to me how much of Dr. Elmore’s discussion reflected the tenants of constructivist teaching and effective technology use. The NCTE statement also mentions the idea of connections and Will mentions in his blog post about connective reading and connective writing. With these ideas coming from many different directions, how can we as educators not sit up and take notice? Now the challenge, how do we design instruction in order to engage the Millennial Generation and foster life-long learning? Another words, what does this really look like in the classroom?