Over the past few weeks we’ve been working with Kerr Mackie primary school in Leeds, to help them introduce project-based learning (PBL). Whilst PBL is being enthusiastically received in the US, over in the UK, it still attracts scepticism. In part, this is due to some fairly bad experiences students had in the 70s and 80s.
We’ve been coaching people to ensure that their projects have clear learning outcomes, carefully planned timelines, and real, authentic products, or services which drive the learning. Too much of what passes for PBL, is actually conventional teaching, with a two-week half-arsed piece of model-making tacked on the end.
But the critical difference between high quality PBL and conventional didactic teaching, is the concept of multiple drafts, informed by teacher and peer critique. We are so used to seeing students first, and only, draft, before moving on to something else, that the opportunities to build learner resilience, higher-order thinking, and constructive critique pass us by in the pursuit of ‘covering’ the curriculum.
We often assume kids will get bored if they’re being asked to submit their fifth draft, or that students will find it hard to be specific in their critique observations. After all, these are skills that academics are telling us even under-graduates struggle with, aren’t they?
Of course they are. If you never get a chance to practice something, you’ll never get good at it. But the teachers we’re currently working with immediately see the value in multiple drafting and critiquing, with any age students. Sadly, our national curriculum review seems hell-bent on packing so much content into classrooms that we’re going to be sacrificing depth of learning, for breadth – again. And our kids will be deprived of the chance to hone the skills they’ll need in their lives beyond school.
Ron Berger is the best advocate for bringing this kind of discipline into projects. In this clip, we see him explain why to some kindergarden kids. If they see the importance of multiple drafts and critique, shouldn’t we?