28 March 2013

Reflecting - An Essential Skill for Learning


I recently had to write an assignment reflecting on the learning that happened during my capstone project for the PBLU teaching certification course, 'The Octopus's Garden'.

I firmly believe that without reflection, there can be no real learning - and I am talking here about educators as well as the children before us. The Flat Classroom Teaching Certification course I am also currently working on, also advocates 'personal reflection and celebration [as] a vital habit of the successful 21st century person' (217).

I tried to build in many opportunities for discussion and verbal reflection throughout the project though learners completed two main written reflections during the project.

The first one was after the first checkpoint, which was a practise presentation completed in teams. This was to determine the progress of the next phase and how to complete, the final presentations. Learners were able to make informed decisions about the next part of the project based strongly in their reflection of their learning up to this point.

The final reflection, Phase 4 of the project, determined their self-assessment of contribution and collaboration as this was a major focus of the project. It also asked them to consider their goals, accomplishments and any outstanding issues or questions they may have following the project. Following the final showcase, which was on the last day of term, learners were asked to complete two pieces of homework during the break. One was their report of their research and findings (workshop 1, workshop 2), the second was a Self-Reflection.

Learner Examples
Example 1
Example 2 (ESL Learner)

My Reflection on their reflections
This project has been challenging for me on many levels - not least because it was my first PBL unit. I feel like I have learned just as much as they have in terms of PBL but also about collaboration. If I had had the rest of the school on board with this, this could have been a fabulous multi-disciplinary project; art, science, maths and humanities could easily have been involved to make it even more successful and even moe full of learning. Whilst it has been used as an exemplar of PBL and is the way the school would like to go, I feel there are still many skeptics who are still not convinced and believe I sit behind my desk while my learners just 'get on with it'. There is also some criticism as many do not recognise this as ‘English’ teaching - and I suppose it is not, in the 'traditional' sense of teaching. But the world of education is changing - it has to as the actual world is changing. Fortunately, many in the school community have been along to lessons, the soundboard, the assembly and the showcase and are beginning to see how much work is actually involved and how many skills are actually covered. I have an open door policy in my classroom and obviously my resources are all online - I even opened up Edmodo to any staff who wanted to see how we use it as an effective 1:1 tool. At times, the negative attitude has been very tough to deal with and I have had some very black moments, but my online PLN through completing courses like this and the Flat Classroom, mean I have a great support network - and the feedback I get from my work means that I know I am doing the right thing.

One of the main outcomes for me from this project is that learners have begun to work together, something that was not happening before. In their reflections, many have asked to complete our next Unit together as G7 and G8, as they have enjoyed the challenge and opportunities afforded through working with other grade level learners.

We are going to continue the themes of collaboration and teamwork explored through the skills developed in this project, through a Unit that asks them if they dare to be themselves. Through a study of Jerry Spinelli’s, ‘Stargirl’, we will explore prejudice, tolerance, conformity and individuality, ultimately searching for the answer to the question, “Do we need individual and social conscience?”

This is still work in progress and I have yet to think about a final product - but am thinking along the lines of a video or handbook for younger learners on the importance of having tolerance for others and their differences, as well as the courage to be ourselves, as I know there are bullying issues in the primary school. As ever, once I have launched the Unit, I will have a discussion with the learners about how they want the unit to go and what they would like the outcome to be so they have some buy-in - and probably more interesting ideas than I do - about what the final outcome could be.
I do want to make sure that there is more contribution in terms of final product and I will require everyone to produce something this time, rather than a team presentation. I am currently studying towards my certification in Flat Classroom Teaching and there are many parallels between PBL and FCT so I am going to look at how the two use final outcome to plan accordingly to allow all learners the opportunity to produce and create. During FCT meetings, we have discussed the issue of non-contribution and one of the main ways we have decided to try to overcome is to have is as part of our rubrics to help enforce the importance of it.

The Future
In addition, as a faculty, we intend to include a research-based PBL project in each grade level. I am not sure The Octopus’s Garden could be reused with the same authenticity, but I intend to use the project as a template for real-life research such as an investigation into the 'Future of Fiction', or an investigation into where reading is going and what a library needs to be - and even, if and when we move to a new campus, what a 21st century school is.

I like the fluidity of the project and the clearly defined phases; I will however rethink the final showcase to include more of a presentation opportunity for everyone - though, as my way of teaching is, each project would be very different as each would be designed and develop with the needs of the learners in front of me.

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Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. Davis. "Chapter 9: Step 7: Celebration." Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 215-233. Print.