What needs to be modeled for students to begin a #PBL lesson?

Back in the swing of all things PBL. Feeling good after yesterday’s post so I’m writing on a sunday night to keep the creative juices flowing. The more I write, the more I’m convinced that students should have a blog portfolio as part of their graduation requirements. Starting in first grade and then following them until graduation. It wouldn’t matter if they moved or changed schools, the blog is just there, capturing their thoughts and reflections over the course of their academic career. Hmmmm…. perhaps a topic for a future #mschat. 😉

Question three dealt with what I find to be the most interesting part of teaching, the logistics. The nuts and bolts. The nitty gritty specific stuff that teachers actually need to know to get a lesson done. How much time should I spend on this? What kind of materials do I need for that? What was interesting about this part of the chat is that answers to the question were already floating out there from participants’ tweets in questions one and two. I love when a #mschat feels like a seamless conversation rather than a bullet point list. This question garnered the most responses out of any question during the chat…

It is a tricky thing to model things for students. The kind of modeling you do also depends on the grade you are teaching. As a 6th grade teacher I often find myself modeling basic procedural stuff like. “this is where you click on the link to take you to my home page”. An 8th grade class would most likely be able to gloss over a bunch of the administrative stuff but I’ll let a seasoned 8th grade teacher speak to that, I’m an 8th grade ignoramus.

One thing for teachers to model for students in PBL that came up was the need to model a student’s work flow, or process. @MrZawlocki summed up the point succinctly:

“I often think the process skills of PBL are more important than the classroom content. They are bigger than classroom.” to which @blocht574 replied, @MrZawlocki Totally agree Matt! ALL of TEACHING is more about PROCESS than CONTENT (Content in life is always changing, process not)”.

@OConnorAshlie offered advice to discuss and model a learner’s thought process.

“the thought process and possibly a mini pbl where they can see a simulation and important talking points facilitated”

The other major aspect of PBL that needs to be modeled (continuously, if you ask me) is conduct. You might scoff at first and think that this is obvious since all classrooms have rules to operate efficiently and productively. The reality though is that PBL classrooms operate in a very unnerving space where the teacher has  willingly given up a lot of control on the immediate operations and the students are the ones who drive the learning forward. That’s downright terrifying for a teacher who is not used to, or has never attempted, a PBL environment. Many of the chat participants listed modeling conduct, in some form or another, as one of the single most important things to model. The idea of class ‘conduct’ goes far beyond setting out a set of rules for students to follow. It is MUCH more than that. Since PBL is a student voice endevor, it is the students themselves that have to come to grips with the class environment that they want. They also need to be coached (especially in middle school) on what effective collaboration looks like and how that relates to conduct, as @cheffernan75 said

“Norms on how to collaborate. Possible resources, possible ways to share results. But constant reminder that those are *possible*”

I was in the midst of looking for an article I remembered from last spring to put up but @nyrangerfan42 beat me to it and found it. The USNews article talks about ‘soft skills’ and I highly recommend you read it and put a poster of it up in your classroom.

“soft student skills: #mschat  http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/2014/05/12/hone-the-top-5-soft-skills-every-college-student-needs …

On the surface of it @mrgranito’s tweet might not seem like it fits into the idea of conduct

“How about…what to do when they come across a stumbling block.”

but it does. Modeling what the pivot and iteration phase of taking a question through development is a really hard skill to learn. When you stumble, what does that look like? Who do you ask for help? How long do you wait to ask for help? What should that conversation look like? If someone asks you for feedback, how do you give constructive feedback without making them feel stupid of cause more problems? All of these questions are questions that students have asked me during a Q+A session before a PBL event. @lesliefarooq was able to answer this by saying it was the teacher who could model this,

“I think a T needs to model trying something and failing at it so that the Ss aren’t scared to get it wrong the first time.”

Some of the questions above were echoed by the chat moderator with his tweet.


“Students NEED to know how to work in groups and hold each member accountable ahead of project”

The need for students to hold others in their group accountable for work production and participation is one of the hardest things I’ve had to teach to middle school students. I still struggle with it in part because I believe that this skill is developmental to a point. Some kids are just not at a point of being able to have a difficult conversation about someone else’s work without sounding accusatory or without someone getting offended or hurt. I admit, I have more learning and work to do until I can say with confidence that I know what I’m talking about here…and it looks like I’m not alone, @nyrangerfan42 tweeted @blocht574 “as well as holding themselves accountable – that’s the trick in a MS classroom” … yes. That IS the trick but what is the trick to doing it well? ARGH!

@AnnSmart17 was interested in finding out an answer to this question…

“So should one start with cooperative learning activities with first starting/modeling?”

It’s a good question but I’m not sure I have an answer for it. For starters, I have an issue with the term ‘cooperative learning’. I’d prefer to see teachers going with a collaborative learning activity. The difference being that with cooperative learning each student has personal objectives that might be different from one another. In a cooperative learning environment, you are not necessarily trying to help the other person, you are trying to get as much for yourself as possible without giving up the ghost. Many students are simply trying to get the best ‘deal’ they can through compromise. With Collaborative Learning though, the goal/objective is shared from the beginning. The process to reach that goal/objective only comes through joint development of possible solutions. There might be compromise along the way but the mindset when entering into it, is different. #rantover


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