Over at Edutopia, Andrew Miller has an interesting, thoughtful post praising the work of PBL Teachers. Along with affirming and energizing the work of effective PBL facilitators, this post can also serve as a handy self-assessment checklist for PBL teachers, from those who are new to the PBL method to the seasoned veterans who have been using the method for years.
1) “PBL Teachers Collaborate with Each Other”: Miller notes that a good PBL Teacher seeks feedback from colleagues during the planning process, especially those in other disciplines. This is certainly true. Additionally, effective PBL facilitators seek student input during the project planning phase, and also incorporate feedback not only from other educators, but content experts as well.
So, as you build your self-assessment checklist, ask yourself questions like: How many pairs of eyes have seen my project plan before implementation? How many disciplines are represented in this project plan, and have I spoken to experts in these disciplines?
2) “PBL Teachers Give Power to Students”: For most facilitators new to PBL, there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of losing power in the classroom. Behavior management is a significant challenge, for even experienced educators, and there is a misperception that giving students power over the learning process means losing control of the classroom. Miller offers helpful solutions, like group contracts and learning logs, to give students ownership over learning outcomes, while still implementing an ordered, effective classroom.
Ask yourself, can students choose how they demonstrate learning in my classroom, or are most assessments uniform tests and worksheets? Moreover, can students choose not only how they demonstrate learning, but what they learn?
3) “PBL Teachers Are Learning Environment Designers”: In his post, Miller notes that a good PBL Teacher rarely relies on recycled lesson plans, but is constantly striving to create an engaging learning environment for students. Even PBL, with its emphasis on hands-on, engaging, innovative learning, can become a routine exercise.
If your students are performing a play as a culminating event, for example, ask yourself how many other times this year they have done plays? Last year’s Go Green! project was fun, but are this year’s students as interested in recycling and earth science?
4) “PBL Teachers Are Student Centered”: There are a number of ways to take the focus off of the teacher and put it into students. Does your Driving Question speak from your students’ perspective, or your own? Is it in your students’ words, or, as Miller asks, is it convoluted and filled with academic jargon?
Also, be sure that activities, themselves are student-centric. Avoid lectures in favor of hands-on activities in which students learn by doing. Avoid one, uniform activity in favor of differentiated instruction that speaks to students’ strengths and interests. Ultimately, ask yourself, “Who should be doing most of the work in the classroom, me or my students?”
5) “PBL Teachers Honor 21st Century Skills”: Miller explains that 21st Century Skills – like critical thinking, collaboration and communication – are not incidental to PBL, they should be the subject of targeted, direct instruction. For every project plan, ask yourself, “Am I actively teaching critical thinking and other 21st Century Skills“?
6) “PBL Teachers Really Plan”: Effective PBL implementation requires a lot of what Miller calls “front end” work: planning forms, task lists, rubrics, etc. This can be a particularly challenging methodological shift for OST providers who are more accustomed to facilitating homework assistance and unstructured physical activity, both of which require little planning.
Be sure that, along with creating an effective PBL plan, you arrive, each day, knowing what you’re going to do (and having prepared the materials you will need to do it). You’ll be well on your way to the kinds of high quality PBL that Miller was talking about!