Archive for category research
It’s the end of semester one, which means two things for me:
- It’s time to prepare my ethics application for my funded research on project based learning in secondary English.
- It’s time to finalise preparations for my own project based learning plan for next semester.
I’ve been trying out elements of project based learning (PBL) for a few years now, and this will be the first unit that I feel fully embraces the model to underpin class organisation and one of the two major assignments:
This assignment will no doubt shift a little as I develop marking criteria to align to the unit outcomes. Ah, constructive alignment, don’t you love it?
This blog will largely be used in the forseeable future to record and reflect on my PBL research and teaching.
The week we’ve all been waiting for, week one of the university semester, is finally here!
This semester, I will be focussing on the following areas of my English Curriculum Studies unit for development:
- Building in more support for student reflective writing. The design of my lesson planning assignment last year included a tutorial presentation of the key teaching strategies, but it didn’t really work that well. So I plan to change this element of the assessment to a written reflection, and add two targeted activities to tutorials in mid-semester to more constructively scaffold the task.
- Finding places to make connections between English curriculum studies content knowledge and other professional frameworks. In particular I want to ensure that students understand how the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers can be used to self-diagnose areas of strength and directions for further learning, and are knowledgable about the Productive Pedgagogies framework that is advocated by Education Queensland.
- Registration. After three years of running this unit it will be time to write up the final unit design, as well as a ‘scope and sequence’, so that the unit is ready to be passed on. At school we called this ‘registration’ – when the Head Teacher would check out your unit plans at the end of the semester and ensure you met your learning objectives. Here at uni there are other other mechanisms in place, but the Head Teacher check isn’t one of them. And official changes are made so sllllloooowwwlyyyy. So, for my own piece of mind, I’m going to put my own unit through a final tick-and-flick, then prepare my reflections and field notes for scholarly publication and sharing.
I’ve included below another classroom poster I’ve made, a visual resource to support my students’ engagement with the Productive Pedagogies – feel free to use and share (though note that the values/opinions expressed on it about alignment with ‘prac’ are only my own POV!).
And once more into the breach!
Hi folks – it’s been a bit quiet here on the blog, I know.
All I can say is … omg MARKING!
I have always had an interest in assessment, but this semester has made really clear to me how dire the situation is with our current practices.
I don’t want to ‘buy out’ my marking (i.e.pay someone else to do it for me) but I feel like I am wasting so much of my time at the grindstone, like a machine, writing the same lines over and over in delightful pink pen in the margins of my students’ work.
“Check the APA style guide for rules about how to format this”
“Formal essays require shorter paragraphs than this”
“Avoid rhetorical questions – make strong statements instead”
“Use your introduction to tell me what your main points will actually be, not to explain the structure of your work”
“Don’t use a quote as a sentence on it’s own – introduce it i.e. ‘Sawyer (year) explains that…'”
“You have not included reference to any unit readings in this rationale”
I worry about RSI. I worry about carpal tunnel! Marking more tasks electronically next semester will hopefully fix the hand ache, but what about the mind ache??
I’m not alone – every teacher reading this knows what I mean.
What are we going to do about it?
Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.
Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.
After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order.
Students used to do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
- Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
- Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans
All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.
From this semester onward, students now do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
- Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
- Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!
The New Task:
Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.
Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:
“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)
What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.
After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning. But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.
Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.
‘Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.
OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:
A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3.
Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed:
- 4 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = PASS
- 6 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = CREDIT
- 8 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = DISTINCTION
- 10 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = HIGH DISTINCTION!
Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.
The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.
One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…
There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post🙂
If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!
This semester I have been engaing in the final cycle of my teaching and learning action research project – part of what I do here at QUT as an ‘Early Career Academic’.
‘Constructing a community of practice in English Curriculum Studies 1 – online and offline’
Action research cycle:
- Planning and fact-finding: 2010, semester 2
- Phase 1 action: 2011, semester 1
- Phase 2 action: 2011, semester 2
- Phase 3 action: 2012, semester 1
- Report findings: 2012, semester 2
The buzz term for how to ‘do’ curriculum planning here at uni is constructive alignment. Anyone else having to use this term?
Basically, constructive alignment is what you do when you make sure your assessment tasks match your learning objectives, and that your lesson materials feed into this productively. (OK, so I slipped the word ‘productively’ in just there…can you tell I’m living in Queensland? Productive pedagogies, anyone?)
So, the first two phases of my action research have been all about getting the assessments to work for me and my unit, English Curriculum Studies 1. I inherited a bunch of learning objectives when I took on coordination of this unit, but in the end I found that the assessment tasks weren’t engaging students in the ways I knew could happen. In the ways I was sure could happen, anyway. All of the assessment pieces have now been modified or replaced (not allowed to change the learning objectives) and things are aligning much more constructively…
The last piece in the puzzle that I was really hoping to nut out in this third cycle is the establishment of threshold concepts for this unit.
A ‘threshold concept’ is the kind of concept that, once learned, cannot be unlearned. Once we grasp a piece of threshold knowledge, we pass over a barrier into new territory, where everything is seen anew with different eyes.
In the (bazillion) Powerpoint presentations I sat through last year as a new academic, I picked up the importance of using a few well-chosen threshold concepts to drive a unit of work. For teachers like me that prefer to use project-based and inquiry-based learning approaches, having a set of threshold concepts in mind that you want students to ‘get’ by the end of the experience looks to be an excellent anchor for lesson planning. Although these concepts are related to the official learning objectives of the unit, they do serve a different kind of function…and I really want to settle on what mine are!
Until this week I was still struggling to come up with suitable concepts.
But now, I struggle NO MORE!
I have been working on a summary video for students to watch at the half-way point in semester, while I am away at a conference. In the video I want to recap the main points learned from weeks 1-5 of the unit. The process of trying to identify what the ‘big ideas’ were amongst all of the super important stuff we learned wasn’t easy. But the process of having to present the ideas to my students (not just to my academic review panel at the end of this year…!) has really helped.
Which I guess just goes to show that even teachers need an authentic audience for their work.
Trying to keep the video short (under 5 minutes) also forced my hand – left to my own devices, I’m sure I could find plenty of threshold concepts, but you only need a few. The wording of what I’ve chosen isn’t quite right yet, but these are the six big points I have chosen:
- Your personal teacher identity is unique and reflects your personal experience, but will inevitably draw on many established philosophies and practices.
- In ‘English’ we study: semiotics, text and context.
- Language codes and conventions are socially constructed.
- Verbal/linguistic language is just one semiotic ‘code’; we also learn/teach audio, visual, spatial and gestural language.
- Literacy involves more than code breaking – we also make meaning, use texts functionally, and critique texts.
- Multiliteracies pedagogies are currently favoured in English curriculum theory.
I suspect this is still too many for 6 weeks, but there you go. We’ll see. Once I’ve finished the video I’ll post it up here on the blog. I still have to add the narration, but most of the images are in. I’m using Movie Maker and Audacity as my tools of the trade…I hope the students have time to watch the bloody thing! But even if they don’t, I’m glad I went through this process and am happy that I’ve found some threshold concepts to settle on, for now. And, with any luck, a shiny new resource at the end I can be proud of. Fingers crossed!
This post is a culmination of a week or so of talking about play-based education. If that’s its official term for it? I don’t know. I must declare my rookie status in this field, which means you should feel really free to jump into the comment s section below and school me on what I’ve missed!
Thanks to @malynmawby, @vormamim, @biancah80, and @benpaddlejones for their ideas via twitter and email. You can read more about @malynmawby ‘s experiences with play-based learning here, here and here.
Play-based Learning: Another PBL?
Despite these terms being used fairly liberally (along with inquiry-based learning), I don’t seem to often come across material that explores the differences or similarities between these terms. I mean, I’m sure we could all take guesses about it, based on what we know about the words chosen; what is a project? what is a challenge? a problem? an inquiry?
Well, while you’re pondering it all, here is some more information to add to the learning theory soup.
States of Play
An overview of the elements of play presented by the National Institute for Play (based in California) outlines seven “patterns of play”:
- attunement play
- body play and movement
- object play
- social play (including ‘rough and tumble’ play and ‘celabratory’ play)
- imaginative and pretend play
- storytelling-narrative play
- transformative-integrative and creative play
And here is a really excellent TED Talk by Stewart Brown, who argues the physiological importance of play:
After listening to Stewart’s TED talk, the idea that I keep coming back to is this:
If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play. (Stewart Brown, TED Talk 2008, at ~6 mins)
Which begs the question: by trying to pin down a definition of ‘play-based learning’ to use in my curriculum theorising, am I contributing to WRECKING IT?
Play in the curriculum
In my quest for answers I came across some interesting material relating to motivation and mastery.
This puts me back into territory that is a little bit psych-y, and I know such approaches don’t always sit well with post-structuralist curriculum types like myself. But I resist that😉
Writer and researcher Katherine Cushman lead a Practice Project for the non-profit group ‘What Kids Can Do’ (http://firesinthemind.org/about/) asking the question ‘what do kids already know about and do well?’.
When adults openly explore our genuine questions about getting to mastery—and include young people’s knowledge and experiences in that exploration—we model the expert’s habit of taking intellectual and creative risks. We demonstrate that we, too, always have things we need to understand better, and things we need to practice. We teach kids to approach any lack of understanding as a puzzle: stretching the limits of their competence, continually testing new possibilities and seeing how they work out. As they expand their knowledge and skills, young people, like us, will discover even more challenging puzzles they want to tackle—not just outside school, but as part of it. (K. Cushman, Fires in the Mind p.10)
In light of this, play strikes me as a form of ‘intellectual and creative risk taking’, essential to building the habits of mind and the resilience needed to seek out and tackle new puzzles.
Who is playing?
Concepts about transformative play have been utilised by the Quest Atlantis project, and a lot of my Tweeps are currently going bananas for Minecraft. These are rich sites and communities tapping into discourses about educational play.
However, I rarely hear any critical views about play or games, and I guess that’s what makes me itch to interrogate this field.
The reflexive dilemma
Listening to a talk by Julian Sefton-Green during his recent visit to QUT, I was conscious of the points he made about the field of ‘out of school learning’, which often involves elements of play.
His research has found distinctions between school and out-of-school learning tended to set up binaries that actually maintained the boundaries around ‘official’ curriculum, and other project and play based activities happening outside of schools (the binary of formal and non-formal learning, for example). His review of the literature showed how debate about not-school environments in the UK is often bound up with techno-utopianism and generalisations about the public school system.
In relation to this, he poses the ‘reflexive dilemma’ that we face in thinking about all of this. That is, the more we reflect on learning experiences, the more we formalise them. In our quest to ‘optimise’ all learning experiences, the learning is more carefully arranged and disciplined.
Which brings me right back to that TED talk – by naming ‘play based learning’ and trying to give play an official role in curriculum, do we run the risk of ruining play? Will the act of ‘doing play’ become just another ‘strategy’ for learning?
In short, how can we develop play as a habit of the mind without over thinking it and taking the fun out of the act of play? And, will defining the difference between all of the different PBLs etc help us in this endeavor, or just get in the way by drawing boundaries that don’t need to be there?