Growing Great Teaching And Learning Under The PBL Umbrella Framework
by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education
“You mean I have to throw out all the work that I’ve done to refine my teaching over the years?”
Our PBL workshop facilitators hear this question, or something similar, with regularity and the answer is, NO! We certainly understand the nervousness or, let’s face it, cynicism that accompanies “another new PD initiative.” We know teachers have become conditioned to believe that the ideas and thinking behind today’s professional development are sure to be replaced with next year’s shiny thing. That is indeed a problem. The difference with project-based learning is that all of those wonderful strategies, tools, and lessons you’ve worked so hard to refine work really, really well in the context of PBL.
Project-based learning in simple terms is a framework, not a pedagogy. PBL does, however, create multiple opportunities for quality pedagogy. As I’ve written about before, PBL is an approach that essentially flips Bloom’s taxonomy and in the process provides a real and authentic context for the teaching that helps students learn what they need to know. You’ll still need to teach and scaffold learning to meet the needs of your students and quite honestly, if you’re not showcasing those best practices you’ve worked so hard to refine then you’re missing the mark.
To help illustrate I’ve marked up the image from my previous blog piece, 8 Basic Steps Of Project-Based Learning To Get You Started, where you can see the process of project design shifting to “Your Great Teaching” toward the end. How you teach, assess, differentiate, and integrate technology are all important parts of PBL and it doesn’t end there. How will you incorporate literacy, numeracy, creativity, and inquiry? How does standards-based grading fit in the picture? How might you use blended and/or flipped learning to maximize your time in the classroom with students? How does your approach foster a growth mindset, and culture where students and teachers are collaborating in quality PLC-type structures?
I could continue but the point here is that the context PBL helps create for learning does not eliminate the need for the work you’ve done to refine your craft but instead shifts the dynamic. Instead of pushing the learning out as a teacher (I’m the teacher and here’s what you need to learn!) you’re pulling thinking and learning from students with rich inquiry (I’m the student, can you help me learn what we’ve identified I need to complete this project?) and are working from a position of commitment instead of compliance.
From a professional development perspective, it’s important for schools and teachers to recognize that while most of our workshops can certainly stand alone they really fit well under the umbrella of PBL. The starting point for most schools is to build the Foundations of PBL and while we often personalize those workshops towards an area of focus like Technology Integration, Differentiation, or Design Thinking we also make it a priority to identify areas like those as areas for growth in our follow-up Continued Growth Visits. Taking this approach not only helps teachers and schools understand the basic framework of PBL but also builds upon the work and wisdom done previously by staff. This perspective may help teachers lower their “PD” defenses while honoring and building upon the work that they’ve done as professionals in the past.