Students have been given ‘projects’ as assessments for as long as I can remember. However, I have often questioned how these projects actually tie-in to the learning goals and whether they do anything for learning other than causing stress. They can also be real ‘monsters’ to grade, once all the projects come in.
The folks at the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) have developed a handy-dandy checklist to help ensure that projects are well-structured and meaningful (see below).
Project Based Learning (PBL) has always had much potential but, as is true of many things, must be used in moderation and with other learning strategies to help keep students engaged, reflective and exploratory learners. Nevertheless, when used properly PBL can help encourage life-long learning by giving students the opportunity to direct their own learning, take some risks and explore a topic more deeply than worksheets and textbook section review questions can.
In a related post, Jeff Dunn at Edudemic makes the point that the BIE checklist can also be useful for guiding the development of any learning activities. Point well taken! I would add that the checklist also fits well with Understanding by Design framework that utilizes Essential Questions and Big Ideas.
Another good article from ASCD! A lot of this is just plain common sense but it helps to make the strategies explicit with examples. Of course, the next step is moving beyond the, “Oh, this is good to know” to the “I’m going to collaborate with you to help ensure these strategies get used regularly” and then follow-up with teachers.
I’ve been a bit behind on my ‘ten minutes a day’ favorite blog readings and in my efforts to catch up I came across a comment by Rick DuFour on the AllThingsPLC blog regarding formative assessments.
Math Teachers!!! This one’s for you:
… Benjamin Bloom’s research in the teaching of math found that teachers get better results when they begin the course with a brief pre-assessment of the skills students must have in order to be successful in the unit they are about to teach. They discover areas where students are lacking those skills, and then instead of beginning new content, the begin with several days of instruction aimed at the prerequisite skills. They repeat this process for every unit, asking “which skills must students have in order to be successful in this unit and how do I know if they have them.” The process works best when it is done by a collaborative team of teachers and the schedule is designed to have some of them teaching in the same period. They give the pre-assessment, look at the results, and then divide the students between them. One might take the group that needs support in learning the new skills, another works some students to practice those skills, and another presents practical problems to students who are called upon to apply the skills. After several days of this, the students return to their homeroom teacher and the new unit begins.
One might think that this process would have an adverse impact on student achievement because teachers couldn’t cover as much content. In fact, Bloom found just that opposite. The fact that students had acquired the necessary skills enabled teachers to move through the content more quickly and the results were dramatically higher. You can read about this in an article Bloom wrote years ago for Phi Delta Kappan magazine called, “The two-sigma effect.”
There’s ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that formative assessments are powerful teaching/learning tools!
Here’s a related article by Benjamin Bloom
So… we’re doing a book study this semester on Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work by the DuFours, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many. I have one regret – why didn’t I work EVEN HARDER at trying to get more teachers involved in this!?
Next year, my job shifts to involve me even more in curriculum – I’ll be the new Director for Academic Affairs, and I can’t help thinking about next year as we wrap up this year with a book study on PLCs. I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have worked at a school that continues to improve, year after year. Yet, this book makes real clear that we can be even better if we focus on the ‘right’ things when we get together in teams to collaborate (something we’ve been doing for the last 3 years):
… since the purpose of the school is to ensure high levels of learning, the goals of the team must be explicitly and directly tied to that purpose. (DuFour, et. al., p.120) [emphasis added]
I just learned even more about the ‘right things’ when I read Chris Lindholm‘s recent post on “The Right Reasons” in which he refers to John Hattie‘s synthesis of over 800 meta-studies on student achievement in Visible Learning. Lindholm even provides an embedded Slideshare presentation that summarizes Chapter 3 (“The Argument: Visible Teaching and Visible Learning”) of Hattie’s book.
What jumps out at me… something I’ve been actively advocating for and tryingto model for the past few years, is… FEEDBACK!!! Challenging students in a highly structured manner that incorporates timely, specific feedback (differentiation is also important).
It involves an accomplished teacher who knows a range of learning strategies… The teacher needs to provide direction and re-direction in terms of the content being understood and thus maximize the power of feedback… also requires a commitment to seeking further challenges (for the teacher and for the student)…” (John Hattie, Visible Learning, 2009, p. 38)
This also re-emphasizes that the teacher as learner is crucial to improvement. The power of learning together has wide-ranging (positive) implications. Lifelong learning in action begets lifelong learning!
“At its most basic level, differentiating instruction means “shaking up” what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn”.
However, Tomlinson makes the point that instruction (aka “process”) is only one area that can be differentiated. Content and Product can also be differentiated.
We all have different leadership styles, just as we all have varied learning styles. What “Content” can we differentiate to help meet our respective institutional goals? How about the “Process” (or processes) we employ to meet those goals? Can we allow for differentiated “Products” from our faculty?
So… how does that apply, in education, beyond Teachers and Curriculum Directors? I posit that we, as leaders in education, must walk the talk and differentiate the manner in which we lead.
Examples of ‘administrative’ Content: Let’s say one of our schoolwide initiatives is using UbD to develop curricular units. One of the Big Ideas is ‘Begin with the end in mind’. We can give various examples of how that is done in order to help our faculty gain a complete understanding. Let’s say another schoolwide initiative is promoting a unified discipline approach. Some teachers may benefit from reading articles on the philosophy of Unified Discipline. Some may benefit more from reading about the nuts and bolts procedures. The point is, we can tailor some of the Content to reach the understandings we need.
If you have better examples PLEASE comment below.
Examples of ‘administrative’ Processes: Just as we use various instructional strategies in the classroom, so do we use various management and interpersonal strategies to help our faculty and our school meet our goals. Collaborative decision-making may work well with some of our faculty but not all. The same goes for Cooperative Grouping. Varying the WAY we run meetings can help us get our messages across more effectively to a wider range of individuals.
Again, your observations, suggestions and comments are most welcome!
Examples of differentiated Product (in an admin context): HOW teachers show us they are helping us meet our goals can be manifest in various ways. What is acceptable evidence? Isn’t this what reflective goal-setting is all about?
What do you think?
The good news is educators commonly epitomize the concept of Lifelong Learners AND there are a multitude of resources for differentiation out there…
- A web page focused on the gifted and differentiation, entitled “Tomlinson”
- Carol Tomlinson’s webpage
- 4MAT Leadership Behavior Inventory
- Bill Powell’s webpage with the Center for Cognitive Coaching