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4 Habit-Forming Rituals to Start & Grow Your PBL This School Year

4 Habit-Forming Rituals to Start & Grow Your PBL This School Year

Most times when we start down the path of Project Based Learning, we take it slowly, tackling 2-4 projects in our first year. That’s a great idea because it gives us a chance to run a project, reflect, retool, and go again, without overwhelming ourselves or our students. But often, I’m asked by go-getter teachers what should/could be done in those in-between times. They recognize that kids gain skills, knowledge, and general “want-to” attitudes the more we offer great PBL opportunities.

PBL, essdack, Ginger LewmanBut they also recognize that burn-out is a real thing their first couple of years. So as we are building up our repertoire of PBL units, is there anything we can do to sustain that energy, independent mindset, and personal academic and social growth in our students?

Absolutely! There are several things we can do every single day that aren’t technically PBL that will support your PBL mindset. Also note, that these can — and perhaps ought — to also exist during your PBL units. 

  1. Remember that deep engaged learning (PBL) is all about learning by doing. So at every chance possible, stop “teaching” and start building/making/designing learning experiences where students learn by doing. Where they get try out a career. Where they get to solve a problem. Where they get to step away from worksheets, workbooks, text books, and find themselves wrestling with your classroom’s content where it occurs outside the school walls.
  2. Stop answering questions that don’t need answered by you. Too many times students will ask a question that, when rephrased, helps them learn to find their own answers. You are not Google. You are not a set of Encyclopedias. We want our babies to be able to learn without us, right? To live a life where they are NOT connected to our proverbial apron strings, but instead, having their own brains connected to where the learning is? Stop answering all the questions.INSTEAD: Validate that they asked a question, which indicates they’re thinking and wondering. Then rephrase the question, if needed, to help provide clarity in what they’re really wanting to know. Then ask them where they might find that answer. It might be from a classmate. It might be from a poster on a wall. It might be in their own memory (kids often ask questions they already know the answers to, if only they’d pause, think, and stop looking to us to tell them everything). And it might also be from Google or a reference text. I’d say that many, MANY questions asked hourly don’t need to be answered by a teacher. Yet there we are, dutifully talking away, robbing the chance of the student to develop confidence and independence. And then in the next breath, we complain how helpless they act. Hmm…
  3. Stop telling kids what to do when they simply make a statement.
    “My pencil’s broken.”
    “I can’t find the ____.”
    “I’m having trouble.”

    These are opportunities for a too-helpful, friendly, loving teacher to swoop in and just tell students what to do to solve their problems.
    And we ALL do it. Even if we think we don’t. It’s quick and efficient. It’s nurturing. It’s showing care.It’s also robbing the students of the opportunity to pause, reflect on their problem, and come up with a question such as, “Well, if this is true, then what should I do next?” We are straight STEALING from them the chance to develop their question-forming skills! How will they ever become problem solvers if they can’t even formulate a question.INSTEAD: When a student makes a statement, I look at them directly and with patience (and often a slight smile). And I wait. And wait. And then say, something to the effect of, “Oh! Sorry. You just made a statement. Did you have a question for me?” I do NOT use sarcasm. I do not say this with impatience. We giggle and I remind them I can’t answer questions that weren’t asked. When they finally formulate a question, sometimes I just answer the question or sometimes, I go back up to Tip #2, and validate the question, then patiently ask where they might be able to find that answer. I KNOW it seems like such a pain to take the time to do this. But I PROMISE you that when you’re friendly and consistent with this, you’re developing kids who aren’t waiting on you to hold their hands. They become self-starters. This is essential for their growth during your PBL units. And this is VITAL for success in an independent life. I’m often heard telling kids, “I won’t save you because I love you. And unless you want to live with me or your parents for the rest of you life (shudder), you’re gonna have to learn to think.” I smile and send all sorts of loving, supporting vibes. I gotchu kiddo. You’re gonna be ok. I won’t let you fall. I won’t let you be a dumb-dumb. (I don’t say that last part.)
  4. Look for outside-the-classroom connections. Where is this skill, this standard, this piece of content happening right now in the world? How can I connect my kids to this situation? Are there people we can interview? Are there (virtual) field trips we can take? This is a huge piece in helping kids (and ourselves) see/feel the relevancy in what we’re doing! Keep asking yourself, “How can we shift our school work more to world work?”
    Because if we say we’re preparing kids for life, then we’d better start practicing real life, right now.
  5. And a special bonus for the elementary classroom, from my friend and PBL partner, Katie Perez:
    In the elementary classroom, we can support PBL every day in our literacy lessons. We can help students develop and strengthen their choice/voice combination through the conversations we have about books. We can connect books of similar themes (regardless of genre) to teach bigger ideas and concepts, rather than everyone just reading the same book. In this way, we’re fostering strengths and interests. We’re also helping students to see that there are many, varied paths to get to a similar understanding.
    Incidentally, while this tip is written for the elementary classroom, I feel it can also apply across the ELA spectrum.

If you want to know more about supporting PBL in your school and community, let me know!
The daily practicalities are precisely the stumbling blocks where new-to-PBL teachers decide that PBL isn’t for them and with over 12 years of K12 PBL experience, I can help navigate and knock flat those pesky daily hurdles.

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Written by GingerLewman

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