Friday, May 21, 2010

Playing the Whole Game

During the reading of David Perkin’s book Making Learning Whole, I was able to make connections to the way that I manage my classroom and I discovered so many other ways that I can teach for understanding. Practicing skills on a regular basis without the real world application of how it works doesn’t allow students to make the connection and see the importance of what they are learning. Perkins used the analogy of baseball practice: the practice of pitching, catching, hitting, and throwing. He discussed how working on the small parts prepares one for the big game. It’s not until you put it all together to play the whole game of baseball that you see the importance of practicing the small parts.

When setting my goals for the year, I knew that I wanted to try “playing the whole game” in the classroom. I knew it would be a challenge and somewhat of a risk, but I wanted to further investigate project-based learning and give it a try. The students would be given the chance to develop autonomy, decision-making and problem solving skills, and apply the English content in the process. Learning grammar in isolation does not give the students the opportunity to see how it is supposed to work through real world situations. Throughout the project, the students were provided formative assessments that gave them the feedback that they needed to help them grow as writers. They were able to work on the hard parts and improve according to individual needs.

The best part about project-based learning is that the students were able to “play out of town.” They were able to take the grammar and writing, the higher-level reading skills, and the science and math that they were learning and apply them to the project as they made generalizations about their guiding questions of their space topic. They found a problem that they needed to solve and they come up with a hypothesis about a possible outcome. They used a KWL thinking routine to help them with inquiry that would guide their research. After investigating and exploring their chosen topic, they ultimately came up with a solution where they had to weigh their options and decide if their solution was worth the risk.

Through the process of PBL, the “hidden game” revealed itself. Reciprocal teaching occurred where the students were guided but were allowed the role of the teacher. They self-managed by using a rubric of expectations, a time-line, and a problem-solving guide that allowed them to organize their thoughts, record their findings, and reflect on what they discovered along the way. This opportunity allowed the students the freedom to be inquisitive and explore their curiosity through research. They definitely benefited from “learning from the team” as they collaboratively worked together on a daily basis to problem-solve. The end product involved a reflection paper, a model representation of their project, and the use of technology (prezi, iMovie, powerpoints, and glogster) to present their discoveries to class.

There are many things that I would do differently the next go-round of PBL, but that is part of playing the whole game. Now I will work on the hard parts as I will expect my students to do, and through my continued reflections, I hope to fine-tune the experience for my next year’s students.