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This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.
(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)
Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.
So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:
We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.
I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!
My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.
The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.
Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂
Times are changing for senior assessment here in Queensland, and senior English has been radically re-written.
To catch you up if you’re just tuning in to this, some notable changes for English in QLD are:
- Reduction of summative assessment in Year 12 from 6 tasks to 4 tasks.
- The 4 tasks in Year 12 are all worth 25% each, and one of them is an external exam.
- There are five courses in the English suite: English, EAL, Essential English (replacing ‘English Communication’), and Literature (a new course in QLD). The fifth course English and Literature Extension, as well as the ‘applied’ subject Essential English, are still in draft.
- The external exam for English and Literature courses will be a single ‘analytical essay’ responding to unseen questions on their chosen text.
- Abolition of the existing Queensland Core Skills Test (the current method for scaling and moderating in-school subject rankings).
- We’re getting a prescribed text list (this is big news)!
The status and relationship of the five English courses is seen in Figure 1 of the English syllabus:
There are a couple of things I think the Queensland design has captured that make it an improvement on the HSC design I am familiar with from NSW.
For starters, the external exam is only one essay (not 2 x 2 hour papers), and it’s only worth 25% of the final grade. My hope is that reducing the weight of the external exam will see Queensland take up fewer exam-driven practices and less anxiety for students.
The next area that is a win is the retention of our work-and-community English course – now called Essential English – as an ‘applied’ course. Unfortunately the equivalent ‘English Studies’ course in NSW has been made ATAR eligible, which based on historical trends will see an over-enrolment in that course.
But wow there are some things that I miss about HSC English.
- I miss the way each module has a clear direction for the work – it’s a close study, a conceptual study, or a comparative study etc.
- I miss being able to choose what my internal assessments will be and how much weight they’ll have.
- I miss the terminology of ‘related texts’ and the sense that something has to be studied in a certain amount of depth to count as a core/prescribed text.
- I miss Macbeth and To Kill A Mockingbird being mostly left alone for junior English.
- I miss ‘persuasive’ being uncoupled from ‘speech’.
- I miss mandatory inclusion of multimodal assessment.
Watching both states redevelop senior English at the same time has been eye-opening. Lots of comparison work to come.
…and I had promised you I would write back. This is probably going to be about my speed. Unless we pick up pace. Time will tell.
I honestly don’t know anyone who has gone to those research coursework seminars and felt differently. The stuff is always too general, but you’ve hit the nail on the head – it’s hard to do otherwise. With adult learners, that is. Though I’m surprised you didn’t get credit for already doing similar courses, that’s a shame. The flipside is though, that you also typically learn something interesting or important at those things, even if you don’t know until way down the track how relevant some tidbit will turn out to be.
Like, that activity you described, where images are used as metaphors to get people talking about their feelings…that’s a cool idea. I plan to steal that. Thank you Sandy Shuck.
So, you seem pretty confident about conceptual frameworks, but can I ask you this – it’s the question I asked at the end of your blog post. Do you know the difference between a theoretical and a conceptual framework, and can you explain it? I had not honestly given enough though to the difference between the two. I looked back on my own thesis and found that I sectioned things out like this:
Chapter: Research Design.
Subheadings: ‘research issue and key questions’, ‘research framework’, ‘theoretical orientation’, ‘methodology’ and ‘methods’.
It got me wondering whether I just used non-standard headings for some things. That sounds like me. But also whether my ‘research framework’ was more or less conceptual or theoretical. One thing I do often wonder is how anyone can have a conceptual framework before having reviewed the relevant research literature. Surely it should go: lit review first, THEN select some research questions based on gaps in the field, THEN choose conceptual/theoretical frameworks and methodologies to best answer those questions, and THEN select methods suitable to collect and analyse data.
I wonder if you would like to share a part of your research proposal. I’m curious how you wrote up the bit about researching in your own school, and glad to hear you were satisfied with the direction you had worked on with Jane. Is it a…practitioner inquiry? case study? …?
Um, tips. You have to write. So write me back. It’s not a kind of writing you can rush. It’s good to have an audience in mind, so write me back.
In the spirit of that, I am also going to tell you in this letter about a thought I’ve had recently, and that I’m presently investigating for a research paper later this year. I’ve been thinking about the specifics of PBL and what the advantages of project-based vs other inquiry approaches (problem-based, challenge-based etc.) might be, in relation to democratic education. I still have no interest in trying to argue that project-based learning is ‘better than’ any other particular type of learning inquiry, but I do suspect it may be more democratic. This is based on the way PBL encourages and provides students with tools to frame their learning in the context of socially and textually authentic, personally relevant driving questions. At a gold standard it also incorporates opportunities for students to exercise choice and voice, and work toward presentation of a public product. Positioning students as knowledge creators, not just knowledge consumers, is vital here.
Here’s where you might take up the Dewey reading sooner rather than later, because that’s what I’m revising and I could use a buddy. What do you think PBL has to do with democratic education, or freedom? A question for another day maybe! I’d also like to attempt reading some of Garth Boomer’s work about English curriculum specifically, but because about to start semester 2, reading time is limited.
This week I’ve given my pre-service teachers this ‘wicked problem’ to start a conversation about work-life balance:
Imagine it is dinner time on Tuesday and you have three things to do before school tomorrow:
- Grade papers
- Meet a family/friend obligation
You only have time to accomplish 2/3 of these things.
Which thing do you drop?
The decisions and justifications that ensued were sufficiently terrifying. Don’t worry – I also had an excellent follow up discussion about all the joy and fulfillment that teaching brings to your life…
Overwhelmingly, students chose to drop sleep (if they were the kind of person who could handle that kind of thing), or family/friend obligations. Many justified their choice by explaining that family and friends would be understanding, and they’d ‘make it up to them’ later.
Some home truths I needed to explain after we had our discussion included:
- This is a wicked problem that most teachers (and ALL beginning teachers) face down pretty much every single night. And every weekend. Basically, in every moment of spare time.
- You can only run on a few hours sleep a night for so long. Driving while overtired can be as bad as driving drunk. Your body will kick your butt come holiday time and you WILL crash. You will also cope less well with this as you age.
- Your friends and family will only put up with being neglected for so long. They will get tired of coming second best. Many will move on as a result. Where will that leave you?
- The assertion that “I will not get myself into this situation” is naive. A beautiful and important goal, but naive.
- The claim that you will get those papers knocked over in a couple of hours ignores the reality of many teachers’ work. English teachers especially mark long pieces of writing – like essays and short stories. You’re looking at around 30 mins per paper, so if you have even half a class to do, you’re looking at 7.5 hours marking work.
- When you’re not marking, you’re planning. There’s. Always. Something.
The follow up sharing has come thick and fast.
Here is an explanation of the Four Burners Theory that one student shared. She wondered if maybe women generally feel more pressure than men to keep all four burners running, and burn out as a result.
One student shared information about music that is purposefully constructed to reduce stress.
This article bemoaning ‘mindset’ culture and the way ‘good teaching’ is conflated with ‘tired teachers’ serendipitously came across my feed that same week.
And, just to prove that when a message is needed, it comes from all angles…Steven Suptic even made a video that same week about being BURNED OUT from making videos.
I’d love to hear from teaching colleagues about their strategies for solving the wicked problem above. Or their struggles in attempting the same.
Postscript, 12th May: And wow, this post from Tomaz Lasic this week with advice for new teachers is solid gold.
Posted in education on April 23, 2017
This is a TED Talk that had popped up on my feed a few times, and now I’ve watched it, I can see why.
What if more classrooms were habitats in which wonder thrived?
What if classrooms were places that children knew their questions would be heard?
What if it was more exciting in a classroom to not know something, than it was to know something?
Kath Murdoch talks about the power of curiosity in classrooms: