I have never been a teacher that enjoyed standing in front of the class and preaching while the students dubiously take notes. My voice never would hold for longer than a day of "preach" teaching. And the student's attention was as shakie as my voice. Granted...I do love that 7th graders think I know all that there is to know about everything. But they will think that regardless if I am preaching to them or at their side coaching them along.
My First Steps
When I first started teaching I took Kagan training for cooperative learning. It is a program that teaches structures that work with any lesson to get students moving and working together. It is was a start. I could see very early that students were more effective when they could talk and reason through a problem as a unit rather than alone.
The problem I ran into was the lessons that I was given were many times fancy worksheets. Stymied by the lack of resources and an administrative staff that preferred rows and silence I floundered a lot. Sure I made them Indian tribes, racing pioneer families, a dinner party welcoming Stephen F. Austin, cattlemen looking to market their cows and a classroom government...but these were but highlights in a school year that lacked real purpose and connection to the outside world. Never did I give them a chance to exercise imagination, connect to a global community, go back and correct things they did not understand or ask real questions then try with all their resources to find the answers. I never thought about it.
Project Based Learning
My school district asked for volunteers to act as a leadership team to train the district. I signed up. I like to know what is going on. Mom always calls it being nosey. I signed up and for the next seven years worked as a curriculum designer reshaping our curriculum into the Design with the End in Mind model. It was the best training I could have ever asked for from a district. As a teacher this focused my teaching on what goal I was teaching toward. It taught me how to formulate questions to lead students to that goal. I started as a writer for the district but as I trained other teachers on the method it became second nature. It took my teaching to a new level.
I had the questions, I had the Kagan methods for grouping and I knew that for students to truly understand something they had to connect to it. The last piece of the puzzle came when I read the book Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner.
There it was. The final pieces to what I was looking for. I started to madly search for more information on the model that Tony Wagner spoke.
It was not groups, or questions alone. The students needed a tight combination of driving questions, a real audience, choice, reflection/revision and knowing why they needed to know. All of those together are not an easy package to produce on a daily basis. Creating a real significant PBL project means a ton of front loaded work. Strong questions are not easily written. Mapping a project so the students don't get stuck and flounder requires planning and systems that act as their safety net.
I am not an expert at this process yet. But I do have some advice to share:
- Students not used to choice become drunk at first with their own power. This will pass...but it is painful to watch.
- Giving students the opportunity to ask for help and your support will make everything better for both of you. Give them a daily chance to ask for help, reflect on what they accomplished, and a chance to strategize for the next day.
- When a project goes longer then you planned that is okay. Schedules were meant to be changed.
Growth as a teacher seems at times to stand still then has huge spikes. Moving toward becoming a PBL teacher has been one of my biggest spikes in growth. I continue to grow and will share it with you.
What is the book or training that has meant the most to your teaching?