Personalization is quickly becoming a buzzword in education, especially in terms of blended learning and educational technology. I joined a team of educators on a panel on the same subject on the Whole Child Podcast. We unpacked what it is and what it might look like in the classroom. We talked about its challenges and benefits and collaborated to explain its implications for education. Most importantly, we talked about the critical role of relationships.
How do we support our students in being career and college ready? This is not a new question, and educators continually struggle with what that even means. We leverage rigor and relevance as keys to prepare students for the postK–12 world, but what does that look like? What are some practical ways to promote rigor and relevance and target specific Common Core State Standards? One key method, which is not new, is authenticity. Teachers can support students in meeting the Common Core by creating more authentic reading and writing tasks. Here are some ideas to consider as you target specific Common Core standards in instruction and assessment.
Many schools are making major changes in structures and professional development to make sure teachers are implementing effective project-based learning (PBL) schoolwide. I've been honored to be part of that journey with many schools. I have seen many different kinds of PBL schools, and with it, many kinds of PBL projects. This work has also reaffirmed the belief that the principal is one of the cornerstones to effective PBL implementation. We know this! This is not new news, but because PBL is a change in the paradigm of curriculum and instruction, it means that implementation has unique strategies and challenges as well. Here are some straightforward ways I have seen principals at PBL schools lead toward excellent PBL implementation.
Creating a safe and supportive learning environment is a critical to a whole child approach to education. Usually when we reflect and work on implementing the Whole Child Tenets in our schools, we forget one critical component in making them manifest: the students. Students are as important as actors in creating a safe school as teachers. They can be actors in helping create a safe learning environment, and project-based learning (PBL) projects can be a way in which we harness that service and target learning in the content areas. Here are some project ideas I have done or have seen other educators create.
Twenty-first century skills are quickly becoming taught and assessed in schools across the United States. Whether through explicit instruction or models like project-based learning, educators are realizing that lower-level content comprehension is not enough. The Whole Child Initiative calls for tenets that rely on these skills. Educators create a safe environment through collaboration. Critical thinking creates rigor and challenge. Communication can create engagement with the community. When we pair 21st century skills with content, we can create powerful and meaningful learning. The Common Core State Standards explicitly call for these skills, so through uncovering the 3 Cs in the Common Core standards, we can see how educators must teach and assess them.
Game-based learning (GBL) is a current trend in education reform and, as it becomes more widely implemented, we must make sure we do not simply focus on the tools. Using games for learning is a great tool, but only if the use is intentional and aligned to best practices for student learning. GBL can, in fact, be aligned to the Whole Child Tenets—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—further leveraging it as a legitimate instructional model to reach all students.
Project-based learning (PBL) can create engaging learning for all students, but that depth of learning requires careful, specific design. Part of this engagement is the element of critical thinking. Complex problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, coupled with other elements such as authenticity, voice, and choice, create an engaging context for learning.
One of the essential elements of a PBL project is the teaching and assessing of 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The key takeaway here is teaching AND assessing. You cannot assess something you do not teach. How do we teach critical thinking? Through intentional instruction and intentional experiences. Therefore we need to make sure that the overall PBL journey is one that has both.
Here are some elements of a PBL project that you can double- and triple-check to make sure your students are critically thinking.
When we ask students to do, perform, and produce, we must ensure that these tasks or assessments demand rigor and relevance. But let's be honest, sometimes these words are thrown around as buzz words in education or are difficult to truly internalize as teachers when we are design assessments. What does it look like to ask students to do rigorous work? What does an assessment that has relevance look like? I can make my own assumptions, but how do I know if my assumptions are truly asking for depth of rigor and relevance?
OK, so I am a gamer. Not that I have the time anymore, but I do venture now and again into a game, whether a first-person shooter or role-playing video game. I am also a big promoter of Game-Based Learning (GBL) and Gamification. To clarify, GBL is when games are used to balance the learning of subject matter through gameplay with specific learning outcomes in mind. Gamification is applying the concepts of game design to learning to engage in problem solving. Again, both are geared toward building student engagement and learning important content. GBL is one method that creates not only a great opportunity to engage students in content, but also an opportunity to keep them active.
Project-based learning (PBL) is a fantastic way to increase parent and community involvement in your school in a truly authentic way. Instead of finding lots of little strategies to engage parents, PBL provides an opportunity to use one part of your school identity, the curriculum and instruction, as the leverage to have parents present at the physical space. Here are some tips and strategies on how to use PBL to increase parental involvement.