Teach.com

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Doing PBL" Isn't Automatic

http://www.flickr.com/photos/track24/
I've been meeting with my 6th grade science teachers in the last few weeks as they get ready to start a project. We've looked at the standards that they want to cover and brainstormed scenarios.

What I've discovered, as a first year instructional coach, is that some of my teachers need more help than others (well duh), and, that there isn't some magic switch that turns on in a teacher's head and they suddenly become PBL teachers.

There really is a leap of faith that a veteran teacher must make to let go of the learning process and put more of the learning in the student's hands. With some it is more of a hopping across stones instead of a leap.  Let go (a little), evaluate what just happened, repeat.

So here we are in March and there is still a valid concern about getting all of the standards covered. Where I see how to set up the project so students find a need to know the material, these teachers still want to "teach stuff first" so that students have a foundation to work with.  I know that the process will work but these teachers haven't gotten there yet.

Part of the problem is that they are good teachers. They have had success doing what they have been doing.  Yes, they have been through a four-day PBL training program.  Yes, they have been told teaching with the PBL process as the primary form of facilitation will work. But we have not required them to go full-bore with PBL.  They have only had to do a few PBL units and practice does make perfect.

It may sound weird to some but teachers, and their students, must struggle and maybe even fail before they will really understand what makes for a good PBL unit. Part of being successful is being honestly reflective and making changes to what you have done. It is the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure that keeps teachers from more freely embracing PBL.

As we move forward with PBL and add the 7th and 8th grade teachers to the mix I realize that we are going to have to be more demanding on the number of PBL units our teachers attempt in the coming school year. This will be especially important in those classes that aren't viewed as "tested" subjects. Those teachers who learn and understand the process will find success and their success will fuel the desire our other teachers will need to take the challenge for themselves. Next school year may be filled with a lot of work but the results will be worth it.