How can we ensure that students master the content in PBL?
As a PBL Coach this is a question I’ve been asked a lot lately. In fact, I’ve recently presented this topic at RTI International's Peer Networking Event. If you’re a PBL implementer you’ve probably struggled with this issue. No worries, I think it’s all part of the learning process and better yet there’s a solution. The answer is what I call Intentional Planning.
To understand Intentional Planning you need to first conceptually understand the difference between a project and PBL. The graphic here shows the difference.
When you understand that the process in a PBL looks and feels different you also need to plan with this change in mind. As project designers we need to ensure that our entire PBL plan allows for every student to process, transfer and .demonstrate mastery of content knowledge.
What is intentional planning?
Intentional planning is ensuring all parts of the teaching and learning are mapped out before a project begins. When you typically plan a project using the documents provided by BIE you focus on the design elements. This is fine, but we can't forget to plan for the day-to-day that includes instruction/assessment/and feedback. A great place to start is backwards mapping the assessments and after filling in the instruction and feedback for students. This is best done with an instructional map. Here are three examples of what I mean by instructional maps.
Web Developers Project
Exponential Outbreak Project
What do you notice in each of these instructional maps? Each of these teachers spent time prior to the project launch establishing the teaching and learning required for the project. In addition, each map has specific formative check points to inform the teacher of each students' knowledge transfer. Sometimes is important to think about “instructional tights” when planning. As an example here is my list:
How can checkpoints, formative assessments, and feedback inform the work?
Simple, checkpoints are your touch points in the project. They should be used to gather information on each student. During this time, you should ask questions like, "Is the student making appropriate progress?" "Are groups working well together?" "Do I need to offer workshops or whole group instruction?" If done well, these checkpoints should force you to focus on the process of learning not just the product at the end. Honestly, if you wait till the end you'll often find that students didn't meet your expectations or mastery of the content was never achieved.
How can you apply this concept still allowing for Voice & Choice?
Well, that’s determined by how much control you need. If more control is needed, you as the teacher establish the driving question, instructional expectations, product etc. On the other hand, if you hand over the learning process to the students how can they establish their own checkpoints, assignments and due dates? I’ve seen both scenarios played out in my own school and both approaches were successful.
The bottom line, every teacher involved in PBL needs to have their projects planned out BEFORE a project begins. The instructional map, a continuum of learning, is a great place to start.
Other questions to consider when planning:
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.