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Andrew Miller (@betamiller on Twitter) is a National Faculty member for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning, as well as for ASCD, an organization providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs. He is also a regular blogger for Edutopia.
All great teachers do great work. And not only that, but they also do different work. Great teachers are always looking to improve practice, steal ideas and try new things -- all in order to meet the needs of their students. PBL teachers are no exception. Any teacher who is truly doing PBL would also agree that it's different. There is something about being a PBL teacher that requires different work, and work that is especially capitalized when implementing a PBL project. Because I work with so many PBL teachers, I feel there are some things that PBL teachers should specifically be proud of. I present them in these six affirmations.
Although PBL teachers often start out with projects in just their own subject area, most create integrated projects with teachers of other disciplines. In that creation, they seek to learn about how different contents connect with their own in authentic and meaningful ways. PBL teachers bounce project ideas off one another and engage in critique, such as the Critical Friends Consultancy Protocol, to seek meaningful feedback that will improve their projects.
Through voice and inquiry, PBL teachers constantly reflect on how students can have more power in their learning environment. Teachers move from structured to guided to open inquiry as they do more and more PBL projects with their students, ultimately empowering students to take major ownership of their learning. During projects, PBL teachers use group contracts, learning logs and more to give students ownership of not only how they show their learning, but of how they spend their time moving toward those learning goals.
When PBL teachers engage in designing a PBL project, they are looking to create an engaging experience for all students. They are not only looking at the big package, but also at the nitty-gritty. They utilize their teacher bag of tricks to provide a variety of different learning activities and lessons that will arm students with the skills they need to perform well on the project. Rather than simply replicating lesson plans from year to year, PBL teachers constantly innovate and create engaging learning environments.
PBL teachers know it isn't about them. Instead the focus is on the students. For instance, when crafting a driving question, they move away from convoluted, academic language toward challenging, student-friendly language. PBL gives space for differentiated instruction, and PBL teachers use that space. They know students can show their knowledge in different ways, and give opportunities to do just that. They create engaging entry events to hook students on the project. They look for constant real-world relevance in the topic, and they provide contexts for students to connect their lives to this work.
Through instruction and assessment, PBL teachers honor 21st century skills through true leveraging. PBL teachers target specific 21st century skills to teach and assess, rather than haphazardly "doing them." They teach the skills of critical thinking, collaboration and communication through targeting instruction. PBL teachers work to balance not only the learning of their content, but the 21st century skills as well.
And I mean they REALLY plan! Anyone who has done a PBL workshop and/or designed a PBL project knows that the majority of the planning occurs on the front end. PBL teachers design a plethora of critical components for PBL projects from driving questions to rubrics and assessments. They plan the majority of the project upfront to ensure that they can work with students during implementation. They work to make sure all elements of the machine are ready to go before kicking off the project!
PBL teachers, you are rockstars! You harness and hone all of these skills concurrently. The work you do with students is especially unique and honorable. This Teacher Appreciation Week, know that you are not only great teachers, but also teachers who possess specific qualities that I believe are challenging and rewarding.