Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Problem with Inquiry in PBL

Via TeachThought
Last year after a single day of training, I took the plunge and attempted the impossible, 100% PBL (Project based learning) classroom.  I spent a month of my summer planning, organizing and creating.  When the students came in we were pumped and ready to watch the learning magic, complete with fireworks and dancing unicorns.  Fast forward six weeks into the school year.  I hated the students they hated me it was mutual...very.  The parents were confused, angry and eager to give me a piece of their mind. Everyone was begging for worksheets and the students were telling me of these amazing teachers that lecture everyday and let them take notes or not and how this was truly the best teaching they knew. It hurt. I died a little inside.

I learned 3 huge lessons from this giant failure.
  1. Give students structure to succeed.  Middle school students struggle with the inquiry process. They aren't there yet and need structure for success.  I could see it but was unsure how to provide them the structure they required. They were new at it and didn't know what to ask.  TeachThought posted the above graphic and I am so printing it for my classroom as a tool.  What I ended up doing was I broke down the questions.  We discussed them and added them to a classroom reference (large sticky note) to go back to and add to as we go through our pbl. I have them write them down and then I would ask them to use those to drive their research.  

  2. Inquiry isn't copy pasting.  A group of my little darlings in the beginning thought if they wrote down everything then they were doing what "I wanted." They didn't understand that volumes of information did no good until it had been interpreted. The bulk instead got in the way many times hiding the true meanings they were looking for.  I modeled using Thinking Maps to explore cause and effects, and timelines of events.  The lure of writing less was enough to encourage some to use this technique. For some though it was a battle all year.     

  3. Failing isn't bad. Trust me it doesn't feel good.  The true lesson is in how you respond.  When that first PBL tanked.  I could have easily blamed it on poor training and gone back to the old ways.  But instead I sat down with the students and we talked about the entire process.  We discussed where we felt it went wrong and how we can improve it for the next time.  This is when I got some students begging for me to "teach at them." And instead of shaming them for being lazy.  We talked about what it was they really wanted from me as a teacher and the root of their request.  After discussion we discovered it is easier and that they are not use to doing this kind of work. I explained that even though this didn't work out like we wished we are still going to keep going because the research shows this has too many benefits to give up on.  

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