I am often left wondering about how much real interest there is about project based learning. There is constant web-chatter around how out-moded Skinnerist approaches are in today’s classroom, how the tried and tested linear approach to classrooms (and learning spaces) cannot be shifted due to time and examination demands. This isn’t new, it’s not even interesting, but around we go almost daily. I think teacher get this, however teachers are not the issue, and for the most part not even consulted. The 0.01% on Twitter are not the vanguard, nor representative of ‘teachers’, something I like to remind myself of, as I certainly don’t think I’m representative nor do I represent.
I’ve seen PBL work in the classroom and online in Australia, and I know from experience how PBL-AU is very different from the American model and method, not least as the two systems are fundamentally different core designs with very different non-negotiable and negotiable facets. Making a PBL teacher is an investment in cultural acceptance, change to process, power structures, funding, classroom organisation and technology. It’s crazy to think you can go to a lecture, hear someone talk about PBL in emotional ways and not leave thinking differently.
The problem is that while PBL as an ethos, and even a model has abundant examples, template and frameworks to copy from, no single teacher can influence anything more than their classrooms without a massive shift in leadership and funding. It is a commitment of several years, not several months or even several powerpoints.
At the core is that PBL rejects much of how most people imagine learning and teaching to take place. It’s not an add, on or an alternative to tinker with, it’s a radical change.
It requires the re-development of whole-school policy, creating challenging curriculum and educational programs, new tools for identifying success and problems, new methods of assessment and entire new programs of work. Management need to define, agree and implement a new process for analyzing the data collected from student work, be assured analysis is accurate and be continually pro-active and prepared to modify learning patterns. Finally, after perhaps years, the school will have a chassis from which to tackle the needs of diverse learners (everyone is this) rather than dumb down the curriculum or seek ‘averaging’ methods or locking down technology. The G&T student learns along side those with Special Needs and the English teacher develops curriculum along side the Maths teacher and the curriculum people carry an actual, not a theoretical load.
It’s complex and takes system wide courage. So as people leave the lecture or go and download the BIE manual following an almost certainly impressive glimpse of PBL success, it would be very foolish to think this is a solution to a current set of perceived problems. A PBL teacher is made from many things, but it is not the person that makes it work, the teacher is only one part of the solution. The danger is that when the teacher takes on the whole, or doesn’t trust the system, PBL is very unstable and often individual teachers ‘burn out’ trying to maintain it.