Category Archives: authentic audience

Now presenting: LEARNING!

This post is part of a series where I look at the “recipe” of PBL (problem based learning) and give an overview of each step and then explain how I have adapted it to the “flavor” of my teaching philosophy and style. I also use SBG (standards based grading) for my assessment method and that influences some of my methods. My hope is that it will be both a good introduction to someone new to PBL and a source of ideas for those who are already teaching with PBL.
After deciding on a Driving Question to focus the project the next step is determine the Proof of Learning (POL) or products for the project. POLs can be individual, collaborative, or both. The best POLs match the purpose of an authentic audience. Students should present each project to people besides the teacher and their classmates. This raises the expectation of quality work because instead of just meeting what students think the teacher wants to see they have to prepare for the public. POLs also give an opportunity to practice skills such as public speaking and collaboration. An enjoyable POL really helps motivate students to engage in learning and to create a quality product.

My Method:
I like to look at my POL’s as part of a big picture process. I look at my scope and sequence of projects for the year. Since I am teaching PBL to 9th graders who are new to PBL I wanted to start with simple POLs to gain confidence; such as wikis or a timeline. I also wanted to do a variety of projects such as graphic novels, videos, and art. I tried to match projects to the driving questions that made sense together. I also mixed my projects up so that a “big” one would be followed by an easier one.

POLs are supposed to always be done in front of an audience outside of the classroom. Although this is very important it can be difficult to find one for every project. Sometimes I do have students present in class only for small projects knowing that they will do a larger presentation on the next one. Other solutions are to have students “present” online by having them post to blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Students can then try to see who can get the most “hits” or “views” on their project. Another fun way for students to present is to have an open house where students set up their projects to explain to invited guests.

Having trouble finding an audience? Try having your students present to younger (or older) students or another class in your school teaching the same topic. Invite in college professors or student teachers to be your audience. Connect with local businesses who relate to your current project. One of your best resources for audiences may be your students’ parents. Survey them and ask what they do and if they have any expertise or connections to others with expertise around your topic.

Student created WWII Propaganda Posters

The other thing I did as the year progressed is quit telling students what product to create but rather let them decide how they wanted to present it. I shared this list of different genres that students could choose from to present their projects. I had students write diaries, wear costumes, design their own propaganda posters, and even decorate a cake. Giving students choice in how they present is one of the most successful things I have found in PBL so far. As a bonus it is much more interesting than watching the same type of presentation over and over and over….