This year I have really been focused on Project Based Learning in my Grade 4/5 class. It has been a year of trial and error. I have really been focused on stepping away and trying not to be the focal point of the class and get out-of-the-way of learning. Upon reflection, it has been a really great year. Here is a short summary of what I learned.
Students Still Need Structure
It may be a function of age – I teach Gr. 4/5 and they need structure. John Hattie has spent more time studying learning than just about anyone and he argues that effective feedback MUST answer the following questions:
1.Where am I going? (What are the goals or Intended Learning?)2.How am I going to get there? (What progress is being made toward the goal?)3.Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)
I have found this to be true with PBL as well. Without targets, the students, particularly younger ones can get lost reams of information available to them.
Students Are Easy to Engage
When giving a topic that is meaningful (to them) and students see the route to success, kids will work hard and be on task. Why? Because people want to be successful, students don’t wake up and say, “I’m going to suck today!”. When they don’t have the tools, school can suck, but when they do school can be empowering.
Students Become Active in their Learning
When given clear targets and criteria, they can and will monitor their own learning and better yet, can provide feedback to their peers. Which takes me to my next point:
I Have More Time
More time to facilitate, work with struggling learners, ask questions and facilitate learning. Often kids were engaged and working together to the point that I was not needed. This gave me the gift of time. I could ask probing questions, push kids thinking act as facilitator.
Marks Don’t Matter
I made it all the way to June before I had a student ask me “is this an A?”. The only reason it came up was because I brought it up (stoopid me). Kids get excited about learning when it’s accessible to them and they will work hard because they want to.
They Learned – did they ever!
At the end of the year, I gave all the students a copy of the feedback I had given them on their summative assessments for the year. I gave them a week to take any of the feedback and improve their work. I figured if they have continued to learn about some of the topics throughout the year, they should have a chance to show me. After all, I want their best work. What amazed me was how much they remembered and how silly some of their errors seemed now and how quickly they were able to show me what they knew. They remembered the projects better than I did.
I Have a Long Way to Go
While I couldn’t be happier with the way the year turned out, I realize that I can still do a better job. I know learning is a process and next year I will apply what I learned and try to make it better, more accessible to the students.