Friday, March 13, 2009

You say Tomato, I say Tomato..oh, wait a minute here..

I thought going into this class that I would most likely emerge a fan of the PBL model of instruction. After reading the required three articles, I began to understand that I may already be a huge supporter of this teaching method. Indeed, the concepts of student choice and the importance of continuous assessment bare a striking resemblance to the idea I know as Rich Assessment Projects.

The idea of giving students a choice in the direction that an assignment may take is a very empowering presence in a classroom. True, it can also be terrifying to begin with, especially for the linear, 'just tell me what I have to do to get an A' student. However, once these students understand that they can design the project to suit their leaning style, the fear seems to dissipate. I really like the openness of designing units with a clear end point in mind but with built in flexibility as to how we, as a group 'get there'. I have found that this approach has lead us as learners to places we never envisioned ourselves going, as the questions raised or the interests sparked through research takes the project in an entirely new and unexpected yet productive path.

This ability to optimize student interest also manifest itself in the aspect of feedback. I am certain that a carefully phrased question that provides an opportunity for the student to reflect upon their own knowledge is a key component of the student driven project. I am amazed at the previous learning that is employed when a student begins to build a project,encounters difficulty and solves the issue by drawing upon a set of skills previously learned. I must mention at this juncture that I teach Senior High English Language Arts grades ten through twelve. This is a huge advantage, as I am able to begin introducing content and concepts to the tens with the understanding that I will be able to incorporate this 'previous knowledge' into my senior assignments. Feedback can also occur at any stage of the project and this has proven to be very constructive, as students are able to learn as the project progresses,as opposed to the traditional method of deliver content and then give a summative final exam. These tests usually only supply a 'mark', rather than a break down of areas of strength and areas that may need improvement. Additionally, with a summative exam, learning seems to end, rather than be a continuous act. With a Rich Assessment Project, the student is being consistently monitored and receives formative assessment at all stages, from initial design through to completion.

As confidant as I may sound about my understanding of the intricacies of Project Based Learning, I must confess that I have many questions yet to be answered. How can I incorporate more of the real world into my projects? The question also has arisen as to whether the English Language Arts curriculum can be adapted to answer real life problems as easily as the math or science subject areas seem to be able to do. Is it easier to do a PBL at a lower grade level? It appears perhaps so, as the ability to blend subject areas together in a project can be done in Division 1 and 2 but becomes almost impossible in Division 4. Is a Rich Assessment Project really the same as Project Based Learning?

Tomato, Tomato? Or apples and oranges? I look forward the coming weeks and the learning that I am positive will occur!



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