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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why Safe + Collaboration = Success

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There are a few new twists to the PBL training we do with BIE and the one that stands out to me is the purposeful way we have teachers share their work with the others in the room. Of course, as with everything we do, we are modeling for the teachers and showing them activities they can do with their own students.  We want students comfortable sharing their work with their group members and with the entire class.

The way it is presented can be thought of as a gradual release method. We start, the first day, with an activity where teachers are drawing a simple picture and sharing it with one other person in the room.  At the end of the first day each teacher will present their project idea and their driving question to one other person for some feedback and discussion. At the beginning of the second day we have them present a poster of their project idea  and driving question which is seen by the entire room. This is done in a quiet gallery walk process. Finally, on day 3, they are presenting to a small group of teachers for feedback using a critical friends protocol.

Each activity is set with a protocol so that time is shared equally and the process is exactly defined. The combination of a set procedure and the fact that each teacher has discussed their project idea multiple times in multiple ways, allows for a thorough flushing out of potential pitfalls in the project plans. Additionally, there is time for reflection and revision between each of these phases.

How does this transfer to the student environment? What if you had activities, early in the school year (or beginning of semester), that allowed students a safe chance at sharing work that they are doing? What if you gradually increased the amount of exposure a student received from outside feedback within a project? What if you had multiple times for reflection and revision built into your project calendar?

Here's how a calendar for a 10 day project might look:

Day 1 - Collaborative Activity with a discussion about collaboration (15 minutes max) followed by the project Entry Event, Need to Knows, and Group Contracts.

Day 3 - Each member of every group is paired up with another student (not in their group) to share their initial project plans. ( 20 minutes max) Groups get back together and discuss thoughts and comments received during the sharing.

Day 5 - Each group creates a poster of their project plan and the class does a gallery walk with "I likes" and "I wonders" written on stickies and left on the posters. (30 minutes max - not counting time to make the posters) Groups get back together and discuss thoughts and comments received during the sharing.

Day 7 - Each group is paired with one or two other groups to do a critical friends (CFP) (20 minutes per group means 40 or 60 minutes for this process.)

Day 8 - Groups refine based upon the feedback and next steps from the CFP

Day 9 - Presentation preparation day (Have a Summative Assessment too?)

Day 10 - Presentation Day.

Day 11 - Reflection and Celebration Day (if doing back-to-back PBL units - regroup and do another collaboration activity. Remember to discuss what worked and didn't work in the activity so that they get a chance to reflect on the collaboration process).

What could (and, probably should) jump out at you about this calendar?  There are a couple of hours of time taken up during the 10 class periods just for the sharing process. 10 class periods of 90 minute block means you lose between 10 and 15 percent of your instructional time to do this. In a 60 minute class it's more like 20 percent of the time. If you did back to back projects for a whole year you could "lose" 36 days of instruction to this. That is one of the costs of doing PBL. There's no sugar coating this. But you need to do a cost benefit analysis to really determine whether it is right for you.

If students get 4 or more years of learning how to collaborate in a group; how to use critique, revision, and refinement in all that they do; and, they learn how to give constructive feedback to others, is that enough of a benefit to offset the time required to use this in your classroom?  If students start going deeper with their learning because they are continually discussing the learning process, is that enough of a benefit?  If we create people who are able to create safe collaborative environments in every business they get involved with, is that enough of a benefit?

We start the PBL 101 process with our groups telling us what traits they consider essential for the "ideal" graduate. I have never seen "can list the major battles of WWI," or  "can draw a to-scale drawing of a cell including the 5 most important components for mitosis," or " can show mathematically why the sum of two legs of a triangle will always be longer than the length of the third leg."  What we see are things about "life long learning," "stick-to-it-tiveness" and "being a good collaborator."  We must be willing to include activities that foster these "soft" skills.

I feel strongly that this process is worthwhile. But let's discuss it. Because, until I've considered all angles I haven't, necessarily, gone deep enough with this topic.  And my blog is a safe, collaborative site.