Alphabet Soup

PBL. CBL. RAFT. GRASPS. UOI. FBI. SOS. Whew! Nowadays, we educators have to navigate the alphabet soup of teaching and learning. There’s so much to keep up with! So much so, that in my music room, I’ve designed my own word wall – for me, NOT the students – so I can remember the jargon. After reading the articles on problem-based, project-based and challenged-based learning, I’ve discovered that the main tenets overlap in that they all share a similar goal of applying knowledge and skills to a real life situation, collaboration among peers, teachers serve as a mentor or facilitator, and so forth. There are slight differences, but, as we say here in the Middle East, they’re “Same, same!”

Using the RAFT summative assessment model, I recently embarked on a project with my students. I wasn’t aware at the time, but knowing what I know now, it can be categorized under project-based learning.

Task: You are an entertainment company. You are to choose a short story and perform it for the school community. As a class, you must organize yourselves as the the actors/actresses, artists and musicians. You will perform this story in [insert date here]. Good luck!

Personally, it was challenging to ‘let go’ of the reigns. I became a mentor – a facilitator. I supported by taking notes and documenting their thinking and their process; but, the majority of the work was student led. They took ownership of their roles because they were able to choose what and how to contribute to the group. Come October 2018, the enhanced PYP will be introduced where student agency is now a major component. Woohoo! Look at us being ahead of the game!

As weeks went by, I was able to sit with the students and create backdrops, props and masks. Little did I know, my quiet Abdulla* was a fantastic artist. Even the class didn’t know that we had a hidden gem! We discovered the natural leaders of the group because they ended up “directing” everyone on stage by telling them where to go and where to face. My little ensemble of musicians discussed what sounds effects and melodies would help the story come to life. Stepping back and seeing the magic happen was a real treat. The process of organizing, creating and executing the short story and seeing its success was evidence enough for me to reevaluate my teaching approach.  

After the performance, we had a moment of reflection. Could it have been better? Yes. Do the students want to embark on another project? Absolutely! The students had purpose. They wanted to share their talents for the school community. They embraced the idea of performing for their little brothers, sisters, cousins in the younger grades. They wanted to “attend meetings” with the artists or the musicians to discuss their ideas. They felt that the meetings made them feel as if they were “adults” in the real world. (Believe me, kid. You’ll regret saying that later). They gained social skills, communication skills, thinking skills, etc., ALL of the skills necessary to achieve a common goal. Maybe there IS something to this whole alphabet soup of teaching and learning…

But what about me?

Thinking back, I feel that I’ve missed out on this whole problem-based, project-based, challenge-based learning approach. It would have been fun to take part in something that my students get to experience now. If given the opportunity, training teachers using this approach would allow us (especially us as children of the late 80’s and 90’s) to participate in this learning model. If given a task and a deadline, I would seize the opportunity to take on a role that I choose, contribute by utilizing my best skills and learning alongside my peers. Who knows what I could have learned and how I could have turned out! But alas, we can glance at the past, but we must move forward to ensure our students can learn and grow so they can navigate their future.

Jack Ma said it best during his talks at the recent World Economic Forum. Take a look for yourselves. Have a great week!


2 Replies to “Alphabet Soup”

  1. Great post! I so enjoyed reading your thoughts, your process and your experience with your students. What a wonderful experience for them. I found it so neat that you discovered a “hidden gem” in a student, someone who maybe hadn’t been given the opportunity to shine before. What a great experience, not only for you as the teacher, but for your student! They will likely hold this memory long into their future and it has likely shaped how they may look at life.
    I agree with you in that I couldn’t find much difference between problem-based, challenged based and project-based learning. I also came to the conclusion that they are the same, same! While they have different names and some different “rules” within them the object is to have students work collaboratively on a problem that has some meaning. A problem they have to find a solution for and do so by working together. There is some misconception that it has to be engineering or science or math based, but really this type of learning can have so many avenues. It’s about having the students think outside the box, develop those critical thinking skills, working on their social skills (which for some students is a huge need!), communication skills, where these skills come together to allow them to achieve a common goal.
    So I say let’s dive right in and swim in the soup! Or eat it! Whatever fancies you the most!

  2. Hi Kehri! I enjoyed reading this post, as it really resonated with my own views and experience.

    I agree with your assessment that the differences between these models is, to use a common metaphor, a bit like “splitting hairs”. In my opinion as well, the difference between them is slight, and they “all share a similar goal of applying knowledge and skills to a real life situation, collaboration among peers, teachers serve as a mentor or facilitator…” This statement is pretty much what I had thought as well when I began reading about these models, and this is really the whole point – the focus on how student learning can thrive when students are given real, meaningful projects/problems/challenges.

    In putting these modes of instruction into practice, I too have found it daunting sometimes to let go of the reigns in the classroom. However, more and more, I find that student engagement is highest whenever I do this. Your description of how well this process went in your classroom is very much in line with what I have witnessed in my own as well. What really resonates with me is your sentence: “The students had purpose.”

    I really think purpose is a key component of motivation in general, not just for students in classrooms. Earlier in the school year I was introduced to Dan Pink’s excellent book on motivation, Drive. In it, he highlights three fundamental components of (intrinsic) motivation:
    Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Although his work isn’t focused on education (although he does have a part in his book that does speak to teachers), many of the concepts are broadly applicable. I also believe the of the three core components of motivation that he cites, purpose is the most important, and biggest driver.

    I too went to school in the late 80s and early 90s, and I have also thought about how cool it would have been if this kind of teaching had been common practice. I would have enjoyed school much more than I did! I had a few teachers in high school trying out these approaches to teaching, and I remember really enjoying these classes. But as you state – it is up to us now to give our students the opportunities to learn in these ways – as the broader learning about how to solve problems, meet challenges, and complete projects will be more important than ever in the future.

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