Monday, 2 June 2014

Building support for project-based learning

One of the key determinants of project-based learning success is the support from other teachers, the headteacher and your students’ parents.

After all, you’ll need your head’s consent to get started and you’ll need the support of your colleagues to develop and implement a high-quality project, especially if it’s your first time.

But how can you convince everyone of the value of PBL? And even if you can, how can you prove to them that it’s all going to go according to your carefully made plans?

Well, chances are it’s not all going to go according to plan, but there are a number of things you can do to get everyone on board and keep them there.

Getting the nod from your head
You know what your headteacher is like and what concerns them. The Innovation Unit’s guide to project-based learning suggests pre-empting what might worry them about PBL and what they're likely to bring up as a reason for not giving your project the go-ahead, and then planning how you’re going to prove them wrong.

For example, if your head is worried that PBL won’t be academically rigorous enough, prepare a detailed outline of the curriculum content you’re going to cover and how you’re going to do it. If perhaps, your head is worried that PBL won’t suit all students (i.e. those with special educational needs), make sure you've got thorough plans for how you're going to differentiate.

It’s worth reading up on project-based learning in order to build up a strong case for it. This fantastic Edutopia blog post by Bob Lenz highlights three concerns about PBL – basically, reasons people will give for not going for it – and explains why they’re just not true. In this post, also from Edutopia, John Larmer of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) does something similar.

If your head won’t agree to a full-scale, whole school extravaganza, see if you can carry out a small-scale project with your class or even just a target group (i.e. more able learners). It’s probably best to start small anyway – and the mind-blowing success of your mini project will no doubt convince your head that it could work on a much larger level!

Remember to invite your headteacher to your culminating exhibition, as well as other members of staff with clout (the deputy head, department heads, governors etc.) – your students will be able to tell them first-hand what an amazing experience they've had and demonstrate the skills they learned during the project.

Convincing your colleagues
Perhaps you’re the headteacher and you’re hoping to persuade the rest of your staff that PBL is the way forward. Or perhaps you’re a Year 7 class teacher with a brilliant whole-year project idea in mind, but the other Year 7 teachers aren't so sure. Whatever your situation, there are ways to convert other teachers to your cause.

First, make sure to be sensitive to their fears – PBL can be scary! Teachers are trained to be in charge – they plan lessons and they deliver lessons. In PBL, this is taken away from them; they are supposed to ensure students succeed and now they have to watch them fail.

To counter this fear, make sure they know exactly what PBL is and what will be expected of them. A whole-staff inset event that explains the philosophy behind PBL (along with some concrete examples), why you want to do it and how every member of staff is going to supported throughout the project will work wonders. It will also give you a chance to gather ideas and consider logistics ahead of planning.

Visiting other schools that have successfully implemented project-based learning is also a good idea 
 perhaps you could attend another school’s final exhibition with your colleagues. This is a great opportunity to talk to other teachers who've just completed a (hopefully!) successful PBL unit and convince other staff members from your own school that it’s a great experience and worth it at the end.

Persuading suspicious parents
Another group to get on board is your students' parents. The Innovation Unit suggests giving all parents and students a copy of your project sheet before the start of your PBL unit. This should include:

  • the project title
  • length of the project (i.e. 8 weeks)
  • main teachers involved (plus their contact details)
  • the project’s driving question
  • the final product(s) students will work towards
  • expected outcomes (i.e. By the end of the project, students will know…/students will be able to…)
  • a project timeline.

This will reassure parents that the work their children will be doing is structured, well thought-out and rigorous. Alternatively, send out a letter, pre-empting and placating any possible concerns parents might have and encouraging them to get involved. You can download a great example of a letter from BIE here.

It’s also a good idea to hold an entry event for parents. If you’ve not done a project in your school before and don’t have any previous projects to use as an example (photos, testimonies and student work are all great ways to emphasise the project's success), you might like to use a video to explain to parents what PBL is and how it’ll benefit their kids. We recommend this one from BIE.

Also, try and explain PBL to parents with concrete examples and avoid educational jargon. One huge barrier to parental involvement is parents thinking they’re not smart enough to do anything useful. If they don’t understand PBL, they won’t want to get involved and giving them this opportunity to play some part in their children’s learning journey is a brilliant way to get them enthusiastic and supportive!

You can see if any of your students’ parents have special expertise, interests, hobbies, or skills that connect to your project, but even if they don’t, encourage them to do something small to help – maybe see if they can come in and help set up the final exhibition, or even watch students’ final presentations and judge their speaking and listening skills.

Remember to keep parents updated throughout the project. Information can be sent home via email or uploaded to the school’s website. Another idea is to allow parents to view project 
work via Edmodo or class blogs.

But the best way of convincing parents of the value of PBL is, as with your head and other teachers, seeing its success first-hand. Make sure you give parents the date, time, and location of your final exhibition as early as possible. They’ll be so proud of what their children have accomplished and will be completely on board next time round.

So, you’ve got the go-ahead from your headteacher, your colleagues are raring to go, as are your students’ parents… but what about the students themselves? In the next blog post in this series, we explore how to introduce your students to the project, and what makes a brilliant entry event.

No comments:

Post a Comment