Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Recent Learning About PBL

On Monday I wrote about a challenge I was facing in the personalized learning program I am leading this year; a challenge related to the idea that the choices of self-directed learning are challenging for some students. I have spent some time reflecting on the past few days of work with my Lights Academy students, and these are some things I have learned and conclusions I have reached:
  • Some students were not ready for the type of scaffolding of the latest project that I shared. With the class I shared the big picture for the next project, utilizing this resource as a sample for the project planning document. Certain students were ready to embrace this design and run with it. Others looked at this and thought, "I don't even know where to start." I treated the class as if everyone was at the same place and ready to move forward with more intensive project design planning, and I legitimately thought they were. But I did not see or analyze the divisions of the progress of students. When I backed up and took the challenged students through the process step-by-step, their anxiety eased and their excitement built.
  • I established better processes for peer review as a result of this challenge. I was trying to field most of the questions. The reality was that many questions could be answered by peers. Establishing peer groups for feedback allowed the easier questions to get answered in groups and freed me to address those that really needed my attention.
  • When I took the class through the more rigorous project planning steps in the same way with everyone, I fell back into the pattern of one-size-fits-all education. It is a reminder that it is easy for any of us who grew up as learners in this type of classroom setting and who taught in this setting for many years to return to these patterns. The pull is great and something with which I need to be constantly vigilant and on guard.
  • This challenge has provided an opportunity to reinforce the type of communication that is important in this learning environment. If there are concerns about a project, about the work load, the expectations, etc. those should be raised early and often through conversations. A personalized learning program has a great deal of flexibility possible, but that only comes through honest communication. Students should not only be willing to share successes and concerns, but they are also expected to provide plans and solutions for their concerns. The challenges certain students faced with choices should be expressed in a different way to honor the process of this type of learning program, and this was an opportunity to remind them and guide them back to this type of productive communication.
  • I am heartened by the support of colleagues who have been willing to provide me with feedback and help me grow in my leadership of Lights Academy. Paul Blomenberg, a teaching colleague of mine, Ryan Bredow, Admissions and Marketing Director at Lutheran High School, Bernard Bull from Concordia Wisconsin, and Tim Schumacher of Concordia, Irvine all took the time to share their thoughts about this challenge with me. They have been generous with their time and knowledge, something that I want to be with anyone reading this blog.
I am seeking to be transparent about both the success and challenges I am experiencing this year because I fully believe in the benefits of this type of education. It is clear that this process builds student skills that are essential for success in a 21st century work environment that requires far more initiative and self-direction than in eras past. Similarly, I want to model the professional growth steps that are required today -- individual initiative, collaboration, and reflection. Therefore, you will likely see more posts about this learning process, for I want anyone who desires to learn and grow from my experiences to be able to do so.

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